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Do I Need OneDrive?

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Windows 10 keep asking me to set up OneDrive. Is OneDrive really useful and is it needed?

Is it needed? No. There are plenty of alternatives if you want cloud storage and features similar to OneDrive.

Or you may elect not to use cloud storage at all.

Is it useful? In my opinion, absolutely.

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Summary

OneDrive is a cloud service from Microsoft that can be used for:

  • Online backup
  • Inter-device file syncing
  • Mobile file access and automated backup
  • Access to files anywhere
  • Ransomware and accident recovery

and more.

OneDrive as backup

If you use OneDrive for nothing else, use it for almost-real-time backup of your work in progress.

Each time you save or update a file in the OneDrive folder on your machine, it’s uploaded to your cloud storage. Even if you lose your machine, the files are still accessible from your OneDrive account online.

In one blow, OneDrive gets you all three “basic” requirements of a backup:

  • A duplicate copy of your file
  • On different media
  • In a different location

When it comes to a basic files-only backup, OneDrive is hard to beat.

OneDrive as automated file copy

OneDrive is also useful for keeping a selection of files on more than one machine, and keeping them all updated and in sync.

Say, for example, you have a machine at home and a machine at work. You set up OneDrive on both using the same Microsoft account. Now, files you place in OneDrive at work will automatically show up on your machine at home, and vice versa. No thought or action required — it just happens.

It doesn’t have to be work-related — it can be school- or home-related — or even upstairs and downstairs computers, if you like. Or all of them. Everything in OneDrive synchronizes with all the machines on which it was set up with the same account.

OneDrive as mobile file access and backup

OneDrive is available on your mobile devices also.

There are two important uses:

  1. You can access all the files in your OneDrive account from your mobile device
  2. You can configure the mobile app to automatically upload pictures (and optionally videos) immediately after you take them

As long as you have an internet connection (or as soon as you do) your pictures are immediately backed up. Even if you lose your phone, they’re waiting for you in the cloud.

OneDrive for unanticipated access anywhere

Say you’re on trip, having left your technology behind. For one reason or another, you need to be able to access one of the files you’ve been working on.

OneDrive can do that. Securely1 sign in to OneDrive on any computer and use OneDrive’s web interface to download the file. If needed, you can upload the file again if you make changes (at which point it’ll automatically update on all your machines back home).

If it happens to be a Microsoft Office file, there’s a good chance you can view and even edit the file without needing to download it at all, using the free online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and other Office tools.

OneDrive for “oops” and ransomware recovery

OneDrive includes file version history. Up to 30 days of changes to your files are kept online.

What that means is that if you accidentally lose a file, or make changes you want to negate, you can view the file’s version history online and restore any of its previous copies. I think of it as 30 days of “undo”.

If you have Office 365 or a paid account, OneDrive also monitors for signs of a ransomware attack and then facilitates rolling back all your files to their state prior to the attack after you’ve otherwise recovered.

If OneDrive notices a large number of your files being encrypted, you’ll get an alert notifying you of the possibility of ransomware at play. If it is, you can do whatever you need to do to remove the infection from your machine without worrying about the files stored in OneDrive. Once clean, you can instruct OneDrive to restore all your files to their condition before the infection. You can read more about OneDrive and ransomware in Microsoft’s article, Ransomware detection and recovering your files.

OneDrive accounts and space

You have some amount of free storage in OneDrive with your Microsoft account.2 If you have Office, you have significantly more.3

You can also purchase more storage should you need it.

If you don’t currently use a Microsoft account to sign in to your machine, it’s easy to have the Microsoft account become your computer’s sign-in mechanism when setting up OneDrive. While I generally recommend using a Microsoft account for your Windows 10 sign-in4, if you’re averse to that you may want to avoid setting up OneDrive, or do so with caution for the issue.

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Footnotes

1: The operative word here is”securely”. Typically that means you’ll only do this if you have some level of trust in the machine and its owner. Regardless, make certain to clean up and log out when you are done. This is not likely to be something you’ll want to risk on a public computer, or perhaps only in the most dire of circumstances.

2: Currently 5 gigabytes (GB).

3: Currently 1 terabyte (TB).

4: There are several reasons, but the most notable is that you have many more account sign-in and recovery options with a Microsoft account than with a machine account.

18 comments on “Do I Need OneDrive?”

  1. I’m surprised you do not mention that other cloud storage packages are available. The free package for OneDrive is only 5Gb. I have seen people exceed that and not realise the excess data is not backed up.
    I am with Dropbox which is arguably the market leader. Multiple cloud packages can cripple a machine so if you are using say Dropbox uninstall OneDrive.

    • “can” cripple a machine –> your mileage may very. I run OneDrive, DropBox, and Google Drive without impact. I’m sure it depends on everything from the specs of your machine to the speed of your internet connection (if they all decide to sync something large at once it can clog things up).

    • I stopped paying for Dropbox, because, for the price of the paid Dropbox account, I can install Office on my 4 computers and give one to a friend, and I get a TB of storage on each machine.

  2. You missed one of OneDrive’s features. It’s actually a subset of the heading “OneDrive for unanticipated access anywhere.” Suppose you find yourself needing a file that is on your computer but doesn’t happen to be in the folder that syncs to OneDrive. If the computer that has the file happens to be running (or you can get someone to turn it on), then you can use the web interface to access any file in any folder that is on that computer. OneDrive links all your PCs running OneDrive together.

  3. I used to leave my computer on when I traveled to access any files I needed using TeamViewer. Since I’ve been using Dropbox and now, OneDrive, I haven’t had to access my machine remotely. I can still phone home and have someone turn it on when I need it, just in case I want something from an attached HDD, but I haven’t needed that yet.

  4. I use OneDrive all the time, since I subscribe to Office 365. The only problem I’ve run into is in sharing files with other people. I have friends who don’t subscribe to OneDrive and refuse to. If I sent them a link OneDrive asks them to set up an account. At that point they grump and growl and quit trying. Is there a way that they can get the file without subscribing?

    Also, I subscribed to a discussion forum where you could include an URL to a file you wanted to share. It seemed that most of the time I did that, it didn’t work. I think there are ways to get past both of these problems, and maybe I’m just not finding them. But it would be helpful to me if you touched these areas.

    • As long as the link you share in OneDrive is public (i.e. you don’t place any account access restrictions on it) it should work without needing to log in. OneDrive may suggest you create an account, but you don’t have to. You can test this yourself by opening the link in an Incognito or InPrivate window.

      As for the second item — “it didn’t work” isn’t much to go on, I’m afraid.

  5. I use OneDrive, googles drive and the free Dropbox (built up from the base amount to 7.5gb). Since I use office 365, I use Sway to create slideshows on my navy website (www.hughpurvis.com). I backup to a NAS drive and to OneDrive for data-only files. All very useful.

  6. I give computer classes and recommend OneDrive for the online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for users who do not have other paid versions pf Office. Almost every Windows user has an MS account whether they use it or not. Although not the full versions there are enough features to be useful for most tasks. I tested the PowerPoint recently to see if it could handle animations within slides and it worked; some other online Slide presentation programs could not do this, at least from my testing but others users may know how to get animation to work within a slide.

  7. I use Mega for cloud storage and backup for several reasons:
    1) It’s end-to-end, zero knowledge encrypted.
    2) It keeps (encrypted) versions of any files that have changed, filed by date for, I believe, as long as you like. No problem restoring from a ransomwear attack (of course I also have a local ‘bare metal’ backup that’s backed up and then physically disconnected)
    3) Rather than syncing only one folder on your computer it will sync as many as you like. For instance it syncs my Documents, Calibre library, photos and my desktop.

    As far as MS Office access, I use Libre Office which opens and saves MS Office files (and myriad other formats) and does everything I need to do.

    • I use Libre office for some things. My problem is I wrote an Access DB about 9 years ago and has a ton of underlying VBA. If there was a real way to move to Base I would, but do not want to redo it all. I output the access dB to excel. Hear I recreated a lot of what is in my access version. I moved it to Libre office but again to much does not move over.

  8. One thing I cannot get to work is editing a simple text file, having a .TXT extension, on my phone when the file is stored on OneDrive. I just get a spinning icon when opening in the OneDrive app.

  9. Leo, I was trying to delete an old folder that had some pictures in it. When I went to delete it, Windows would not let me delete the Thumbs.db file. I am able to delete everything in the folder (word files and picture files) but cannot delete the Thumbs.db file. Windows keeps telling me that it cannot delete Thumbs.db files and that another program or person is using it. Only there are no other programs open and no other people logged on. I can see the hidden file, but Windows will not let me delete it. I’m stumped, can you help me? Thanks!

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