Improvements to OneDrive Sync (Finally!!!)

Improvements to OneDrive Sync (Finally!!!)

In September, as part of the big Ignite conference, Microsoft announced some pretty exciting upgrades to the OneDrive cloud storage system.

I read the announcement, but, to be honest, I didn’t get too excited. After all, OneDrive for Business has a pretty long history of promising a lot, and delivering little. I have spent years (quite literally) working with the product to try and build an enterprise-friendly use case around it, and it was never quite “there”. I was happy to put my enthusiasm on hold, and to only be impressed when I saw the actual delivery of some of these new promises.

Today though, I needed to work with a new document library that I’d created in my Sharepoint Online tenant.

I keep all my client documents safe and organised in various Sharepoint Team Site collections. It’s just one of the neat benefits to an Office365 environment. The icing on the cake is that when I’m working with an external team – some people from the client’s company, some from a third party consultancy, etc. I can simply invite all the people to the Team Site, and everyone can access the same copy of the documents in the cloud. It’s great for keeping everyone up to date and on the same page, and the best bit is that Microsoft don’t charge you any more for this – it’s included in your Office365 subscription.

The one thing that has consistently been a downer for me though, is syncing Team Site documents down to the local PC. I prefer to work on the local copy where possible, because it’s a lot quicker than checking a document out of a team site document library, editing it offline (while no one else can edit it), re-uploading it and checking it back in. It works, but it’s about as fun as it sounds from that last sentence. And when you’re rapidly consolidating a number of documents, and have a somewhat flaky internet connection, any bit of friction hurts.

To go on a brief history lesson:

  • Those familiar with OneDrive for Business will know that you used to be able to sync a Team Site document library with the original OneDrive for Business sync engine. But it was a terrible experience. The sync engine just wasn’t very good when you had more than one person syncing a team site. Frequently (IE, multiple times a day) we would end up in situations where an entire folder would be instantly deleted. This happened when someone’s laptop that had been away from the network was reconnected, and instead of it downloading all the new documents from the Team Site, the sync engine would notice that there were all these files on the Team Site that weren’t on the laptop, therefore they must NEED TO BE DELETED… Yeah – helpful.
  • Microsoft listened to people’s anguish with the far-from-robust sync engine.
  • They promised to do a better job.
  • And they started by… simply removing the ability to sync a Team Site document library.
  • So, from one perspective, they solved the problem. They “fixed the glitch”.
  • They promised to bring it back one day, when it actually, you know, worked.

In the meantime, the rest of the world simply moved on over to Dropbox and happily went about sharing documents with their team. But the Microsoft engineers were busy beavering away in the server room, and they’ve come up with some magic.

From the announcement at Ignite, the first cab off the rank is:

Ability to sync SharePoint Online document libraries and OneDrive folders shared with you (preview available today).

So you can imagine that they’re pretty proud of it. And rightly so.

When working with the aforementioned Team Site today, getting ready to upload a bunch of documents, I noticed that there was a new Sync icon in the document library. If you’ve not been keeping up with Sharepoint Online updates recently (and there’s been a few, so I don’t blame you), Document Libraries have come in for a graphical overhaul. They look A LOT nicer. Hopefully the UX will spread across the rest of the Sharepoint Online platform quickly. Initially, I didn’t know if this new Sync icon was simply part of the new UX that didn’t yet work, or if it was some mystical new gift from the Gods of Syncing.

I decided to just straight in and click it, because that’s just how I roll some days.

And voila – the local OneDrive client app kicked in, and seamless synced the online Document Library down to my PC.

Easy as that.

Copy a file into the folder on the PC, it uploads straight into Sharepoint Online.

Open a file from the local replica in Word 2016, and Office365 does it’s cool “simultaneous editing” trick, and multiple people can co-author the same document in real time.

This is OneDrive syncing like we expect.

While I’ve not given it a thorough workout, I’ve put it through a number of tests today that were guaranteed to upset the previous client. It’s come out with a perfect score.

I’m very excited to see this capability back in the product. If the new sync engine can prove it’s as robust as it’s competition, a lot of people who had to move to Dropbox might see the opportunity to move their document storage back under their Office365 subscription and save the cost of a different product.

It’s early days, but it’s encouraging signs.

To read the rest of the announcements – and there are MANY (some are already available today – the enhanced thumbnail rendering engine is particularly user-friendly) – head over to the Office Blogs here:

Matt Russell

I started as a way to help business owners cut through the confusion and get real value from their IT systems. If you're a business owner who wants to improve your tools, or if you're an IT consultant helping business owners unlock their potential, you'll find something interesting here.

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