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Do I Need OneDrive?

Question: 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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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 & References

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.

32 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).

  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 ( 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!

  10. If some of the files I store in OneDrive are in the cloud only and only synced to my computer on an as needed basis, is there any way to back up the OneDrive files which are only in the cloud? From what I can tell third party backup programs will only backup files which are on the computer’s hard drive and not files that are only in the cloud on OneDrive. Is this correct?

      • I just found this exchange of posts and hope someone from Team Leo can set me straight!
        Am a bit embarrassed to ask this…
        I have a Mac Air and use BackBlaze to back up my laptop. I was trying to save an Excel file and up pops a message to sign into my Microsoft account! ….which I do have via my desktop PC. It appears it wanted me to do this so that it could back it up to One Drive.
        I did not even know I had One Drive on my laptop!…and don’t know why I need it. When I did a search for One Drive under “Find” it listed a series of documents that must have been backed up to One Drive (I assume). Since I’m using BackBlaze…can I just delete One Drive from my applications? Thanks!!

        • I would make sure that your documents are stored somewhere else, that Office applications are configured NOT to store to OneDrive by default, and then, yes, I believe you can delete it. I’d back it up first, to be safe, and I’d also uninstall or disable the OneDrive app that is likely running on your Mac.

  11. Leo…
    Not being computer savvy, wife ‘n I take +/- 1K pics a yr ea. Both use Samsung 8+ smart ph’s, & Windows 10 laptops. Have limited $, would you recommend using “OneDrive” for our Smartphone pics/Laptop (Min/Avg) pers files backup? Or purch backup device? -Thanks…

  12. Personally I think things like onedrive, google drive are a waste of time.. And if anyone really wanted too, they can hack into them and get everything off those drives… If someone for those companies saw something like an amazing picture, they could sell it themselves, it’s on their drive. I made my own personal setup which can be accessed from anywhere using a raspberry pie and eight 12tb drives.

  13. One Drive wants me to change my password. I use my email address on Yahoo with my original password without any problem.
    Why should I change it?
    So fergetaboutit

  14. You’ve ALL missed the consideration of 2 things.
    1.) The ecological impact of being digital hoarders unable to part with a dam meme or decade document. These “cLoUdS” are NOT clouds, but HUGE warehouses of computer databases. Where I moved 15 years ago, was surrounded by acres and acres of natural land with trees. Since then, no less than 6 cloud farms have moved in, and because they are owned by the filthy rich, and/or the intend-to-get-filthy-rich, each humongous warehouse is surrounded by acres of land stripped bare of all trees, stripped of all ground cover and sodded with rolls of grass that are then kept unnaturally green (for TX) with copious amounts of water and fertilizers, weed killers, etc. (Green runoff=poisons)
    The amount of animal/bird/insect communities&families that have been run off and/or killed in this process is insane, deplorable, despicable, and so very very sad. These animals who survived have run from one place to the next, only to find themselves in the same plight over and over again. It’s heartbreaking. When I first moved here and put up birdbaths, I had dozens lining up to use them all day long, I’d have to refill them every couple of hours. Now, I fill them one a day, and that’s only to make sure the water is fresh, because it hasn’t gone down all that much. and for what?
    I will NEVER store my stuff in a freaking cloud.
    2.) You DO know already, but tend to poo poo it, that it’s all right there for any govt official (or good hacker for that matter) to grab, should they ever want to. I live in such a way that there is nothing to hide, but I still don’t want my personal business so easy to serve up that all it takes is a request to my cloud owner. There is already way too much of my personal life out there via social media, phone records, Alexa, etc. etc. Why in the world would I want to simply GIVE them the rest?

  15. I do not like OneDrive. If I can not hold my backup in my hand (external drive) then as far as I am concerned, I do not have a backup. I do not trust online services to keep my files safe and accessible, or secure from hacking. I do not trust the providers to continue giving me the space originally promised, or 24 hour access. Case in point – the recent Google Drive fiasco where people lost files after May 2023.

    All of the computers I have set up for myself and for family/friends are configured the same way. Operating system and applications go on C drive, user files go on D. That way I can image C (Macrium) and restore a system quickly in the event of system corruption.

    I typically create the standard folders (My Documents, etc) on D, then relocate the default folders to the D folders. Microsoft has already made this difficult enough by not using consistent naming in the Registry. It is now even more difficult with OneDrive. Even after jumping through the usual hoops to disable/derail OneDrive, with new updates Microsoft keeps undoing my changes.

    Before installing the last major update I took an image of C. After the update my system, amazingly enough, had none of the post-update problems that are all too common these days. In the last few weeks I have created several files in Libre Office and saved them to the default location (My Documents). What I did not realize at the time was that the last update had re-enabled OneDrive, and the documents, instead of going to D:\My Documents had instead been saved to …\OneDrive\Documents on C. I am currently preparing my system for a return to ASUS to correct several hardware problems (I could write a book on all of the problems I have had with three ASUS laptops in the past year). Naturally, this included a backup (on two separate external drives) of my D drive. Fortunately, before wiping my system, I noticed the change and made a copy of my documents.

    Microsoft must stop deciding what is best for users and forcing it down our collective throats.

    I am making one more attempt to thwart OneDrive by using junction points. My current attempt is to, in the OneDrive folder on C:

    ren Documents Documents.old
    junction Documents “D:\My Documents”

    and similar for all folders in OneDrive. I can’t wait to see how Microsoft screws me over at the next major update.

    • I won’t go into the advantages of using OneDrive as the article pretty much covers everything. OneDrive is not a good standalone backup as no matter if you keep all your personal files in your OneDrive folder, there are files in other locations that can’t be synced with OneDrive. A system image backup is essential.

      As for security, I take care of that by encrypting any sensitive files. A system image backup protects against data loss.
      OneDrive plus a system image backup is a belt and suspenders approach. You never know when one or the other will break.

      I’ve used my system image file to recover my system 2 or 4 times, but since I’ve been using OneDrive, I haven’t had to mount my backup drive to recover individual files. It’s much quicker to get them from OneDrive.


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