The year was 2011 when Microsoft launched Office 365. A subscription service that included familiar apps such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, it was balked at by some who saw it as a sly way to bill monthly for a product traditionally purchased in a single lump sum. Did word processing really change enough to justify a subscription? Why would someone keep paying for Excel when the version they bought 8 years ago is still working fine?
Now 10 years older and rebranded as Microsoft 365, the service has clearly made its case, with over 200 million active monthly users on the platform that has grown exponentially, particularly under the technical challenges of COVID-19. Though the same productivity apps remain, some of the greatest value (for both home and business offerings) comes from products that were not part of the original “Office Gang.” Standing tall among these is OneDrive, which has simultaneously resolved classic file-storage problems while also offering exciting new ways to work with your data.
What is Microsoft OneDrive?
A competitor to services like Google Drive and Box, OneDrive is a cloud storage solution for your files. This means that your files will be hosted on servers in a Microsoft datacenter instead of your own hard drive. This may not seem advantageous, or it may even seem precarious if you are untrusting of another party having stewardship over your data. However, a review of Microsoft’s data protection strategy, which includes keeping copies of your data in multiple geographically-separated, climate-controlled, security personnel-protected, encrypted datacenters, should calm the nerves. Yes, Microsoft is likely doing more to protect your critical documents (or cat photos) than you are.
What are some of the features of OneDrive?
If you don’t get excited about things like large quantities of secure cloud storage, OneDrive offers several features that may appeal to your workflow.
File Access from Any Device
Files saved on OneDrive can be opened, shared, edited and deleted from most devices. With web, mobile and desktop offerings, you’re never far away from your data.
How I’ve used it: While writing this article, I was able to take a screenshot on the mobile app, save it directly to OneDrive and immediately access it from the computer. Going in the other direction, the article was primarily written from the computer, but I was able to make some edits from the mobile app.
OneDrive may optionally sync the Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders from your computer’s hard drive to your cloud storage. This allows you to have the convenience of saving your files to the traditional locations provided by the operating system while also enjoying the benefits of secure cloud storage.
How I’ve used it: Whenever setting up a new computer, I begin by installing OneDrive and enabling Backup. Not only does this enable backup protection for any future files I may work with, but it also syncs down my previously-backed-up files onto the new computer, immediately providing access to my entire library of files.
Files on Demand
To preserve disk space on your computer, the Files on Demand feature allows you to decide which of your files exist only in the cloud and which ones have a coexisting local copy on the computer’s hard drive. Leaving files as online-only saves precious disk space, but the ability to make a file available offline remains a critical option for files that need to be available in the absence of an internet connection
How I’ve used it: I’ve worked with many users who have limited-storage devices, such as the Microsoft Surface, which has SSD sizes beginning at 128 GB. When space is at a premium like this, Files on Demand is a valuable tool that prevents the user from quickly maxing out the storage on their new computer.
New to OneDrive in 2019, the Vault provides a location to store sensitive files (e.g. social security cards, drivers licenses, medical info) under additional layers of protection. First, accessing files in the Vault requires a user to complete Multi-Factor Authentication (such as facial recognition, fingerprint or SMS). Once a user has authenticated into the Vault, a period of inactivity will cause the Vault and the files within it to lock, requiring additional MFA to be accessed again.
How I use it: Personally, my Vault contains the geographic coordinates to find Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster, but you can use it to store whatever you like.
Bonus: Office App Upgrades (AutoSave, Share and Collaboration)
Perhaps the best benefits of OneDrive appear in the traditional Office apps themselves. When you save your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files in OneDrive, you unlock a set of features that cannot be mirrored on a standalone Office installation.
AutoSave – When enabled, AutoSave continuously saves a document while it is open. While doing so, it intelligently creates versioned copies of the document, which permits easy roll-back to an earlier edition if necessary. Additionally, the pastime of “Oh no! I just lost power 3 hours into typing this report and I never saved it!” is effectively eliminated.
Share and Collaborate – Any files that are in OneDrive can be easily shared with an outside party. Office files have the added ability to have multiple users working on the document (and see the other doing so) in real-time.
OneDrive, when viewed plainly as storage solution, is an enticing product. When viewed as a storage solution with hundreds of integrations into other applications and workflows, it becomes an excellent offering that empowers the entire Microsoft 365 service. Those integrations do not fit the scope of this introductory overview but will be visited at a later time.