SMB Tip: Never Lose a Document or Other File

Posted on September 29, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in OneDrive, Microsoft 365 with 17 Comments

Last week, I interviewed several people representing small businesses that use Microsoft 365. I should do this more often: It was instructive speaking with people who have real-world experience, not just Microsoft 365 in general, but also with the seismic changes that rocked our world this year requiring a sudden move to remote work.

These discussions confirmed some of my opinions about Microsoft 365, in particular my notion that Microsoft Teams has emerged as the single most useful tool during the pandemic, and that its usage will persist going forward, even if everything magically returns to a “normal” or near-normal state someday. But I was most fascinated by some of the new tidbits I learned. And I’d like to share one that I heard about multiple times.

Use OneDrive’s Known Folders feature.

That is, if you manage users on Microsoft 365, you should enforce or at least encourage the use of Known Folders. And if you’re an individual using Microsoft 365, you should enable it for yourself.

For those unaware, Known Folders is a OneDrive (and OneDrive for Business) feature that lets you redirect your Desktop, Documents, and/or Pictures folders from the local hard drive only to OneDrive, where their contents will be available both locally, on the PC’s hard drive, as well as from anywhere you can access OneDrive.

What I heard—again, multiple times—was that Known Folders is a lifesaver, because users are now working from home and don’t have easy access to IT help staff when they can’t find a file. And since most of the time that happens, it’s because it’s on the Desktop or in Documents, redirecting those folders to OneDrive ensures that nothing important will ever be lost, no matter which PC or device the user is currently accessing.

To learn how to manage this feature as an IT admin or other representative of an organization on behalf of multiple users, you can check out the documentation on the Microsoft Docs website. To enable this feature as an individual, open OneDrive settings and navigate to Backup > Manage backup and choose the folders you’d like to redirect.

Thanks again to everyone that took the time to speak with me last week. You can find some clips from these talks on First Ring Daily, and on our social accounts, and I’ll be incorporating some quotes into future articles as well.

And if you’re not yet using a commercial version of Microsoft 365, please try a free month of Microsoft 365 Business Standard, which includes access to the Microsoft 365 desktop, mobile, and web apps, and 1 TB of cloud storage, and can be accessed by up to 25 users.

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Comments (17)

17 responses to “SMB Tip: Never Lose a Document or Other File”

  1. thalter

    I've had some problems using the desktop backup. Oftentimes applications will install shortcuts on the desktop. These shortcuts will get replicated to other computers where the application is not installed (or in a different location), in which case this shortcut will be broken. The same is true for other shortcuts that point to items outside of OneDrive.

    • sentinel6671

      In reply to thalter:

      I was just about to write something about this. This behavior turns me off of using this feature because of the messiness it creates if the same apps aren't installed everywhere.

  2. crunchyfrog

    I was planning on moving my folders to because it works so well but this might work even better. I like that OneDrive lets you access files without having to sync the entire contents to your computer until you need them. makes setting up a new computer a breeze.

  3. waharris007

    I LOVE this feature. I turn it on every time I set up a PC for my myself and especially my mother and daughter. It's dummy-proof backup, especially for people who save everything to their desktop. I used to use an additional cloud storage service like SugarSync just for the Desktop backup feature on their computers, so I like having it all in one place now.

  4. IanYates82

    I just had to turn this off for pictures two nights ago for personal OneDrive.

    My newish laptop had the issue my old one had a year or so ago where the photos app would try to download 200GB of photos from the camera roll suddenly. Real shame ?

    It was hard to unpick the folder redirect too as the gui gave me an error matching a recent MS support kb article which directed me to the registry keys that govern these locations.

  5. truerock2

    I replaced my 8 year old SSD that had my C:\ drive on it about 6 months ago.

    I did a complete, default-settings, re-install of Windows 10.

    I had to re-install each of my applications... starting with Office 365 Family.

    Before I did the Windows 10 re-install, I copied the contents of my D:\ drive and my OneDrive to an external backup HDD.

    I then deleted the contents of my OneDrive (this took about an hour for OneDrive to complete).

    I had decided to completely rebuild my OneDrive.

    When you do a reinstall of Windows 10 with the defaults, you end up with OneDrive located at:


    with various default directories such as





    These are folders I never use - but, I did not change any of the ways that Windows 10 install set OneDrive up.

    I then copied my backups from the external HDD to my new OneDrive folder.

    These folders had names like





    It took about 16 hours for everything to upload to OneDrive. I have a 140Mbs/6Mbps cableTV internet connection.

    When the upload was finished I found that OneDrive had put everthing in the OneDrive cloud and I had no local copies of any of my files.

    I found that to be a little bit disturbing. I didn't know how much to trust Microsoft with my most important files (I have 2 10TB HDDs where I keep less important files).

    When I decided to backup my OneDrive files to a local external HDD, OneDrive put local copies of all of my files back in


    So, I started wondering... where should I keep my OneDrive files? Should I keep them in C:\Users\UserName\OneDrive or not?

    I found I started having occasional problems with Excel and/or Word hanging if I had a lot of Word and/or Excel files open which were not local copies. So, I had to move some files back to C:\Users\UserName\OneDrive to avoid that problem.

    So, now... I have about 20% of my OneDrive files local to avoid application hang-ups.

    I guess the only other issue I have is I can't remember what the OneDrive folder icons mean and I have to keep looking them up. I may need to print them out and stick the print-out on my wall next to my PC monitor.

    The other thing I had to get a hold on was this:

    "When you open an online-only file, it downloads to your device and becomes a locally available file. You can open a locally available file anytime, even without Internet access. If you need more space, you can change the file back to online only. Just right-click the file and select “Free up space.”

    With Storage Sense turned on, these files will become online-only files after the time period you've selected."

    Again, these types of locally-available, on-line-only-files would occasionally hang if I had a lot of them open. So, I had to change them to "Always Keep On This Device" and turn off auto-save.

    • sammyg

      In reply to truerock2:

      Honestly you are making it too hard on yourself.

      I use OneDrive and I use the default folders on my computer and I have Backup/Known folders turned on. The only thing I change is that I keep my pictures folder cached down by choosing "Always Keep On this Device". This is so the Windows photo app can scan them. Of course the photos app is HOT GARBAGE but that is another story.

      If my hard drive died today, I would re-install Windows on a new drive and login to Windows using my Office365 home account. All of it would be available again.

      I also use this on Mac's and I can access all of the files.

      • truerock2

        In reply to sammyg:

        I don't disagree with your suggestions. I just don't like the Windows 10 "default folders" because they don't provide anything that I know of and they kind of "creep me out" because I'm not sure how they might work. I had some weird situations with C:\Users\UserName\OneDrive\Pictures... so, I just let it do its thing and ignore it (granted, this involved iPhotos).

        I agree that I have thought about keeping my entire OneDrive in C:\Users\UserName\OneDrive. It just seems like a waste to keep a TB of files local when I'm probably not going to access 95% of them in the next 12 months.

        Maybe the next time I backup my C:\Users\UserName\OneDrive folder to an external HDD, I'll leave all of my files local and let Storage Sense gradually move them back to the cloud.

        • sammyg

          In reply to truerock2:

          If you did a clean install of Windows and setup OneDrive to do BackupKnown folders, as a first step then none of your files would automatically come down from OneDrive.

          All of them would be there in file manager but with a "cloud" symbol next to them. They only come down from the cloud if you open them or force them down with "Always Keep on Drive" or whatever that option is named. Of course if you move files into those folders on your PC from another local source, say a external drive they will sync to the cloud and also be local. Once they are synced you could right click and choose "Free up disk space" or whatever that is called.

          By the way this is how all of these cloud offerings work for the most part. iCloud does the same thing across all of your Apple devices, Mac, iPhone, iPad etc. In fact its photo syncing is 100x better than OneDrive. Google Drive does the same thing as well.

  6. Alastair Cooper

    You can do this with Dropbox as well, simply by changing the Documents and Pictures location. In fact I suspect it would work with any cloud sync software.

  7. Alex Taylor

    As others note, having these folders pointed to saner locations is old news, but great advice.

    For 20+ years I've been redirecting them first to a separate partition (for easier reinstalls of windows) and then to synced locations once that became a thing.

    (related rant:I miss being able to put your entire user profile on a separate drive)

  8. waethorn

    You can do this with any folder.

    Take, for instance, your Music folder. If you want to redirect it, right-click it and go to the Location tab. Just change it from C: Users username Music to C: Users username OneDrive Music. If you already have music files in the source folder, be sure to use the option to move those files to the new location when it prompts.

    (Edit: stupid comment box stripped out the backslashes)

    AFAIK this is all that the OneDrive option does.

    Note that some music programs may have an absolute folder path in their settings that has to be updated to the new location. I've tried this on a couple systems and the Windows Store version of iTunes seems to automatically update to the new location. I don't know about the regular install version of it though.

  9. Nic

    Never ceases to amaze me how OneDrive is so well touted and beloved by many and I can't even get the damn thing to work.

  10. shmuelie

    You can redirect any of the special folders, I've been doing that for as long as I had OneDrive

  11. mattbg

    Curious if/how people use this when they are working with massive files. For example, what if you regularly worked on large Photoshop documents or video projects that were saved regularly? Seems like it would be syncing 24/7. Is there any way to deal with this or is it just not good for that use case?