Microsoft to Deliver Unified OneDrive Desktop Sync Client on Windows PCs and Macs

Posted on May 6, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in OneDrive with 0 Comments

This year, Microsoft will deliver a unified sync client for both OneDrive for consumers and OneDrive for Business on PC and Mac. And in doing so, Microsoft will dramatically improve the capabilities of the currently lackluster OneDrive for Business client experience.

If you have used both OneDrive for consumers and OneDrive for Business, you probably know that these two services—and their desktop-based sync clients—are quite different. And that, paradoxically, the consumer OneDrive is superior in many ways, especially from the perspective of the client user experience.

What you may not know is that Microsoft is planning to merge the desktop sync clients for both of these two products technologically so that they work the same way. From the user’s perspective, this means that OneDrive for Business will gain many features that we know and love from consumer OneDrive—like selective sync to the PC and Mac desktop—and that both OneDrive and OneDrive for Business will be updated concurrently going forward.

I just discussed the timeline for these changes in Microsoft Outlines a Schedule for OneDrive Improvements. Here, I’d like to hone in on a key part of this technology merger. As with that previous article, this one is based on information provided by Microsoft’s Reuben Krippner in his Ignite session A File’s Future with OneDrive for Business.

It started off with a humorous bit—an “awkward moment”—about the current OneDrive for Business sync experience (on PC/Mac), which I think we can all agree is freaking terrible. It’s an all-or-nothing affair, meaning you can only choose to sync all of your OneDrive for Business files, or not sync any files at all.

“We are all-in as far as OneDrive for Business is concerned,” Krippner said. “This is a massive set of commitments for us, and you should feel confident about where we’re heading in the future.”

Today, of course, sync—meaning PC/Mac desktop syncing of OneDrive for Business content—is “not where it needs to be.” And despite working to fix the current experience and apparently seeing some success—honestly, I’ve never noticed it get any better—Microsoft is going to deliver a new sync client later this year on both PC and Mac later this year. It will include key features users are clamoring for—including selective sync. “We hear the feedback loud and clear,” Krippner said.

Microsoft isn’t building a new sync client just for OneDrive for Business. Instead, it is taking the consumer OneDrive sync client—which Krippner described as “high scale, simple, reliable, and robust—and using that as the basis for a unified sync client that will support for OneDrive for consumers and OneDrive for Business.

Microsoft to Deliver Unified OneDrive Desktop Sync Client on Windows PCs and Macs

“We want people to access their personal and work files in a single, seamless experience,” Krippner explained. “We’re still not unifying the back-end, that stays the same, and the user doesn’t care about that. But we want to make sure that we have a simple, consumer-like experience across any end-point and how they work with their files. (In addition to the client sync experience discussed here, Microsoft is also unifying OneDrive and OneDrive for Business on its mobile clients—which is already complete—and on the web.)

According to Krippner, Microsoft will deliver a preview version of this unified desktop sync client in Q3 2015, so sometime July and September. This is for both PC and Mac, and will arrive after Windows 10 is complete, meaning that Windows 10 will ship with the current (and still sort of lackluster) OneDrive sync client for consumers only.

(Concurrent to this, Microsoft will also “unify” the OneDrive experiences on the web, and here again the OneDrive for consumers look and feel wins out. What’s not clear is if this will be a single web experience or if you will still need to visit OneDrive for Business separately from consumer OneDrive.)

In the final quarter of 2015, the unified OneDrive sync clients for both PC and Mac will become generally available. Preview users will be automatically upgraded to the final version, Krippner says, while those who didn’t test the preview will likewise see a “seamless” change to the new client.

(Concurrent to this, Microsoft will ship a universal OneDrive app for Windows 10—on PCs, tablets and phones—that supports both OneDrive for consumers and OneDrive for Business.)

The unified sync client will support selective sync for both OneDrive for consumer and OneDrive for Business files—and as I assumed it will look/work like the current OneDrive sync clients for Windows 7, 10 and Mac. It will let businesses selectively wipe OneDrive for Business files without impacting your personal files. It will support large files up to 10 GB in size, and will remove the 20,000 file limit since Microsoft is offering unlimited storage of OneDrive for Business users. (Unlimited storage will roll out by the end of 2015, Krippner said.)

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It’s not clear to me if the unified sync client will finally support files and folders that are shared with you, a feature currently missing from both of today’s clients.

Over time, Microsoft also plans to address the complaints that arose late last year when it announced it was discontinuing the beloved Windows 8.1 version of the sync experience which, unique among all OneDrive sync clients, lets you browse offline-only files in addition to files you’ve synced to the PC. (And do so while the PC is offline.) No, Microsoft isn’t bringing back placeholder files. But it has a plan to sort of approximate placeholder files.

It’s called offline files. It will debut first in the mobile clients for Android and iOS in Q3 2015, giving us a decent idea of how this feature will look and work in Windows 10 (and on Mac). As I understand it, you will be able to browse through your offline-only files in a read-only, and only when you’re online. Then you can use the selective sync mechanism to mark files and folder for offline sync.

What isn’t clear to me is whether this capability is coming only to the OneDrive universal app for Windows 10—which, again, shows up in Q4 2015—or whether it will be added to the desktop sync client at some point too, allowing us to view offline files right from the File Explorer (or Finder) shell.

I’d like to see that happen, but even the presence of offline files in the universal app is a big improvement over the original shipping OneDrive experience in Windows 10.

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