Why I’m (slowly) Switching to OneDrive

I’ve been using Google Drive and Google Docs for several years. With the addition of functional (albeit somewhat crippled) versions of the applications on my Android mobile devices, it’s a quick and easy way to have documents with me wherever I might be. Add to that the ability to share documents with my assistants, and it’s become a valuable resources in how I handle my data.

I recently started playing around with Microsoft’s offering. They, too, now offer somewhat crippled versions of actual Microsoft Office programs for free on both the web and mobile, including my Android phone, integrated with their online “cloud” storage offering, Microsoft OneDrive.

But there’s something fundamentally different about Google Docs and Microsoft Office Online, something that has me now in the process of slowly switching to OneDrive, and potentially even shifting some of my other files from DropBox while I’m at it.

It’s all about backups.

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Synchronization and cloud storage

To understand the difference that’s caught my eye, I first need to review how tools like OneDrive, as well as Dropbox and Google Drive, handle synchronization.

The fundamental concept is very simple: you install an application on your computer, and connect it to your online account. With that online account comes some amount of free online (“cloud”) storage (and the option to purchase more).

You point that desktop application to a folder on your computer – typically a new folder that the installation has created for you. That folder is then “associated” with your online storage.

Any time your machine is online:

  • Any file or sub-folder you place in the folder is automatically uploaded to the online storage.
  • Any file or sub-folder you change in the folder is automatically changed in the online storage.

That, alone, makes these services a pretty simple approach to getting near-realtime backup. But there’s more.

  • Any file or sub-folder you create in the associated online storage is automatically downloaded to your machine.
  • Any file or sub-folder you change in the associated online storage is automatically changed on your machine.

By itself that seems interesting – you can go to the web interface and add, delete and modify files, knowing they’ll show up on your desktop later.

Unless, of course, you’re using Google Drive, and create a a document using their online tools.

A document isn’t always a document

Leo's Files, Moving in the CloudThe fundamental difference boils down simply to this:

  • If you create a document using Google Docs, and you have Google Drive installed on your PC to synchronize with your online storage, what is stored on your machine is “.gsheet”, “.gdoc”, or similar, which is a shortcut to the document online. Double click that, and you’ll be taken to Google Docs online to view or edit the document.
  • If you create a document using Microsoft Office Online, and you have OneDrive installed on your PC to synchronize with your online storage, what is stored on your machine is an actual Microsoft Office document – .docx, .xlsx and so on. Double click on that, and you’ll open whatever application1 is on your machine to view or manipulate that document.

In other words, even using Google Drive, Google Docs exist only online.

Why this matters to me

Google Docs exist only online. Put another way, Google Docs exist in only one place. . . and you know what that means.

If it’s only in one place, it’s not backed up.

The only way I know of to back up my Google documents is to periodically download them myself, either by exporting them manually – something I actually have a monthly reminder set for me to do – or by running Google’s Take Out service, which lets you download everything you have stored in your Google account2.

Automatic is better.

Office 365 Not Required

Just to be clear: you do not need Microsoft Office 365. Simply having a “Microsoft Account” with any of Microsoft’s services gets you something like 15 gigabytes of storage on OneDrive, for free.

Switching to OneDrive give me more flexibility

I subscribe to Microsoft Office 3653. That means I have the actual Microsoft Office applications installed on my computer. By keeping my data in OneDrive, I can:

  • Work on my documents using full-featured Microsoft Office programs on my PCs.
  • Work on my documents using Office alternatives( like Open Office) on my PCs.
  • Work on my documents online, via the web, from almost any computer.
  • Work on my documents on my phone or tablet.

In each case, each time I complete or save my work the document – the real document, not a shortcut – is automatically replicated onto all the machines on which I have OneDrive installed.

Instant backup.4

All the usual features

OneDrive has the other features we care about, too:

  • Cross-computer synchronization. Add multiple computers to the same online account, and OneDrive will keep the documents in sync across all machines.
  • Sharing. I can, and do, share documents, or even entire folders, with others.
  • Online storage. I’ve lost track of how much you get for free – I think it’s 15 gigabytes right now, but it could change. With my Office 365 subscription, that gets bumped up to one terabyte.
  • Revision history. Make a bad change to a document, only to see that mistake get replicated across all your machines? Go to OneDrive online and you can fetch a previous copy of the document.
  • And probably more….

In fact, since the sharing and synchronization facilities are so similar, and the storage is so much greater on OneDrive, I might also be moving more of my DropBox contents over to OneDrive. Aside from the default storage amount, that’s not a problem with DropBox at all; it’s simply a matter of convenience for me.

What should you do?

I’m not suggesting everyone start switching to OneDrive. I outline my experience to encourage you to explore the possibilities and differences between some of the cloud storage services. After realizing my Google Docs were somewhat at risk for lack of backups, I elected to make a switch.

Are there other solutions? Of course.

Could I have solved the problem a different way within Google Docs? Probably.

But OneDrive has matured into very robust and viable solution, and I’m ready to take the plunge.

Given all the alternatives out there, what I want you to do is to understand the differences, and make an educated choice based on your own needs and priorities.

And, of course, I want you to back up. 🙂

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Footnotes & references

1: It doesn’t have to be Microsoft Office. It could be OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or any of a number of programs that understand the Microsoft Office file formats.
2: Though I have not once been able to get it to work if I include my email. The resulting file is too big and the downloads consistently fail.
3: Full disclosure: as a Microsoft alum, I get it at a discount. But, in my opinion, it’s still a bargain at full price.
4: And in full “belt and suspenders” style, the PC copies get backed up yet again as each PC is, itself, backed up nightly.

57 comments on “Why I’m (slowly) Switching to OneDrive”

  1. Very topical (as usual) Leo!

    I also invested in cloud backup about a year ago. After a couple of false starts (Windows Apps that crashed during backup by a very popular app), I ended up choosing LiveDrive Pro Suite, which has both backup (unlimited) and synchronization (5 TB, they call it Briefcase), for up to 5 machines. Cost me about $160 last year (not sure how much this year – it’s a British outfit and the quoted price is 11 pounds per month).

    Very happy with it … and I recently decided to also upload my Macrium Reflect image files. It takes a couple of days to upload the 500 GB image file from my desktop machine … so I moved the full image backup to Friday night!

    The neatest part is I can email links to shared Briefcase files from my Nexus 5!

    Highly recommended! Here is the URL: http://www.livedrive.com

    Thanks Leo,

    John

  2. I don’t know how it is done, but you can supposedly work your Google Drive App offline. To me this means there is more than a link to the internet files on your computer. There has to be a copy of the internet files on your computer somewhere. I’ve never been able to find these files however.

  3. If a file on my computer is corrupted, the synchronize feature should automatically corrupt the backup.
    Could a virus cause the revisions to also be corrupted?

    • Yes. But OneDrive’s file history would let you recover the files from a time prior to the corruption. (Dropbox does this as well, for up to 30 days – not sure how long OneDrive’s last.)

  4. But there’s another way to do this. Don’t use in-the-cloud programs. Use something like Open Office or MS Office on your device. Then let the cloud be your backup. This does mean you need to make sure you put files in your cloud folder. Why use an app on your device instead of in the cloud? Because then you can create an edit stuff even if you don’t have an internet connection. Just my $0.02

  5. How would I arrange for my various profiles to be included in the OneDrive bundle? I already have my Thunderbird and Firefox profiles on a “Data” hard drive which is manually synchronized among several machines, but my user profile and My Documents are still buried somewhere in the C: drive. I’m sure they can also be moved, but haven’t had the courage to try yet.

    But if all those were successfully placed in a OneDrive synchronized folder on all machines, how does synchronization account for the fact that they all may be in use simultaneously? (That’s also true for ordinary data, of course. If I’m working on a spreadsheet on several machines, which one wins when updating occurs — in both directions?)

    • Simultaneous update is a problem no matter what synchronization technology you use. It sounds like a flip answer, but I’m totally serious: avoid the problem. Don’t update the same files in two different places simultaneously. Depending on the program attempting to use them results can be quite the mess.

      It is possible to move your Thunderbird profile to a folder of your choosing, and that folder certainly could be within your OneDrive folder. I’d look to Mozilla’s support articles on profiles on how to locate and/or set it.

      • Agreed re simultaneous use. I’ve already taken care of Thunderbird and Firefox, was looking to do my Windows profile (%SYSTEMDRIVE%\Users\me). But i found that Microsoft cautions not to: “By changing the default location of the user profile directories or program data folders to a volume other than the System volume, you cannot service your Windows installation. Any updates, fixes, or service packs cannot be applied to the installation. Microsoft recommends that you do not change the location of the user profile directories or program data folders.” So that, I guess, is that.

      • I don’t see the point of trying to synchronize/use the same Thunderbird profile across several machines. I just set up Thunderbird to access my email with IMAP. All my email is automatically synchronized across all my devices.

        Firefox has some kind of built in synchronization of your Firefox profile across multiple devices. I’m guessing it stores your profile on Mozilla’s server. I’ve never looked in to it, but am planning to do so: I hate having different bookmarks on different machines. It gets too confusing.

        • I agree with you IMAP solution. That is truly syncing the email on the cloud. As for syncing bookmarks, I use X-Marks which is from the company which offers LastPass. X-Marks not only syncs between instances of Firefox on different computers. In addition, it syncs between Firefox, Chrome and IE on the same and different machines.

  6. Hi Leo. I too use Google Drive as my primary cloud storage, have an Office 365 subscription, and have been considering moving over to OneDrive. On my PC I have the habit of setting the “Read Only” attribute of committed files. A couple months ago my PC died and I chose to start with a clean slate rather than restore my old system. But when I tied back into Google Docs, I discovered that all my file attributes settings were lost! Do you have any idea if OneDrive will be different and store these? Thanks, ~Roel

  7. 1 TB of Online storage sold me. I like Office, rather, need Office. So why not?
    Thank you Leo for also reminding me of the file history. Not used often, but when you need it…

    • Excellent point. Most other reviews comparing the two miss this entirely – 1 TB thrown in on something you need to use anyway. I love Google Drive for the pdf text search capability if you use Google print to cloud function, but my understanding is the MSFT uses Bing to look inside pdfs and images also as a matter of course for searching. I am only starting to use due to me coming across articles like this (finally). Others worry about both of these behemoths tracking your every more, parsing every file, doing data/psycho analytics on your every keystroke. Like anything else, be careful out there with your data.

      • If you take advantage of the OneDrive storage, for less than the annual cost of DropBox, you get more storage, and an essentially free Office 365 for 5 machines.

  8. I’m currently using OneDrive & admit I’m struggling with it a bit because I want to use it as a backup only. I would like to be able to sync my Data folder & all it’s directories & files to OneDrive, for backup purposes without having OneDrive sync anything back to my desktop. I’m having difficulty at this point having my Data folder sync any changes to files OneDrive. Seems I have to do it manually & not sure what I’m doing wrong.

  9. I use both in limited ways and also have reason to think OneDrive is better than Google Drive. I’ve deliberately chosen not to install either of the Apps on my machines and simply upload files from time to time. A new version of a file uploaded to OneDrive gives the option to update and replace the old, whereas a new version uploaded to Google Drive is simply added as an extra file, leaving a list of numerous old copies.

    Maybe this would be different when using the “installed” Google Drive but it has been a disappointment to me for this reason.

  10. I’m a fan of OneDrive as well. Recently, I found OneDrive constantly using significant CPU cycles(8-15%). I had moved my One Drive folder to an encrypted drive. The behavior went away when I moved the folder back to it’s default drive(non-encrypted C: drive in my case). I suspect that when I boot, OneDrive looks for its folder before my encrypted drive is mounted and can’t find it. I notice that Dropbox produces an error message when it can’t find its folder on my unmounted encrypted drive. Then I just manually restart Dropbox after the drive is mounted. Anyone else have OneDrive folder on an encrypted drive?

    • Encryption and decryption are processes which use a lot of CPU. They involve extremely complex mathematical calculations.

  11. I am confused by your statement which states: “Go to OneDrive online and you can fetch a previous copy of the document.” I don’t think OneDrive keeps previous copies of the document and if it does I would like to know how to access it. Can you please clarify your statement?

      • Thanks Leo, a good one to remember. However, it applies only to those prior documents which were actually deleted. Previous copies of documents before they were altered/amended are not in the “Recycle Bin” can not be recovered.

        • That’s very good to know. Then my other reason for switching to OneDrive kicks back in: the ability to back up locally using your own tools.

  12. In this article you mention “something I actually have a monthly reminder set for me to do.” Can you share what software you use to create reminders? I have been searching for a program similar to the old Palm “To Do” and haven’t found anything as simple, complete, and easy to use as it was. Have you found a replacement? If this isn’t the correct location to post this question, let me know and I can create a stand alone question.

    Also I have found One Drive to work well. The only hiccup I have encountered is that I must be sure to save a document after opening it (even if I didn’t edit it) or I get weird errors about “someone has changed this document on the server….which version do you want to keep?” If I religiously save a document if it has been opened, and wait for the save to upload, I don’t see this problem. Otherwise it is very handy.

    Also the version history is great! I didn’t know it existed. And it was hard to find. You have to go online, check the box for a document, go to Manage tab that now appears at the top, and usually there will be a selection for History. Not there on all types of files, though such as Visio files. I really dislike these programs that don’t show pull down tabs if you don’t have everything just right. I liked the old tabs that would show items greyed out if they weren’t currently available, but you knew they existed.

    Also, love your philosophy about what you do.

      • I can also recommend GoodToDo as an excellent reminder service. You can send emails to it (from multiple accounts), you can create recurring ToDo’s, you can create separate categories for sorting purposes, and you access it via browser. I think it is about $6 per quarter.
        http://www.goodtodo.com

        Graham

      • I know this is a VERY old thread…but didn’t Google Calendar exist “way back” three years ago?

        Simply create a repeating event in the calendar and set a reminder for the event, one hour, one day, one week ahead of time.

        (Unless I’m completely missing something here! Which……..happens!) 🙂

  13. With an office desktop, a laptop, tablet and Windows Phone, OneDrive is the reliable answer to total and seamless synchronisation of virtaully all files.

  14. I currently use Carbonite for my backup and have found it to work perfectly with my PC.
    However, if I delete something or remove it from the computer Carbonite deletes it with no option for archiving.
    As a photographer, I would like to remove photos which I am not working with but may want again. Carbonite said I need a ‘storage’ site. Any recommendations?

    • Dropbox archives deleted files for 30 days. You would have to set your computer up so that all user files go into your Dropbox. It’s a bit of work getting all of your programs to save and download to a Dropbox folder. Carbonite backs up what they determine are user files, but who knows if they are fully getting it right? You’d probably need the professional version which costs $100 a year for 1 terabyte. Look for an offer. I got it for $70.

  15. I would like to use OneDrive as an additional backup for my documents, but I want to use boxcryptor to encrypt the documents first and I’d prefer only one way synchronization. Is this possible?

    • Unfortunately synchronization is a two way street with One Drive. With DropBox, you can upload files via their web interface and on each computer, you can choose not to synchronize those folders, or possible synchronize that/those folder(s) only on one machine. That may not be what you need, but I have some folders I don’t share on all of my machines. Or you might purchase some web space and use FTP to only upload.

  16. A very clear and useful article. Being retired and not very active for health reasons I largely just use my Tablet PC and the Cloud(s) for personal stuff, storing family / travel photos and a limited number of documents. My (perhaps half-backed) approach to backup has been to have four (free) Cloud accounts, including OneDrive and GoogleDrive, and to save much the same things to several or even all of them. I treat OneDrive as my primary account but a few weeks ago I had an alarming experience with it. After spending many hours creating Albums and transferring years of photos to them, the next time I accessed the account (a few days later) all that appeared was totally blank pages —- all my photos and documents had gone.

    Fortunately, I found them in Trash and was able to restore them. I fear, that had I left it 30 days before checking they may have been gone for good. Restoring was no simple task. With several thousand images and documents I could not face doing it individually, so transferred them in bulk (still taking a long time). Then I discovered other problems. The Album structure I had created had disappeared. As well as having a jumble of images and documents, the images had multiplied like rabbits, so there were six to twelve or so copies of most of them. It took ages to sort it out. And I have just looked at OneDrive again and found that the photos are still there but no longer in the re-created Albums, plus the multiplication has happened all over again!

    As very much a non-techie I get much appreciated help with my computer from sites such as yours and a number of forums, but I have not yet seen much discussion of problems with Clouds, although enough to know my experience (which includes similar occurances with DropBox) is not unique. I look forward to suggestions, on how what I have described, can be guarded against in future!

    Chris

  17. Chris, I ran into this when I started out. The problem was that I had multiple copies of photos on my computer in my DropBox and OneDrive folders that were all being copied to the cloud. When I cleaned out my DB and OD folders on my computer they were cleaned up in the cloud as well.

    • Leo Abbot —– thanks for that comment, I will give some thought to the implications of what you say about ‘multiplication’ being caused by automatic uploading from other Cloud services. It seems a logical explanation. But does it explain maybe about a dozen duplicates of a number of images when I only have four or five services? Maybe it does. It also make me think about the risk of having things uploaded which I dont want placed in the Cloud (financial info and so on)? It has not happened so far.

      I have just looked at one of my first Cloud accounts, BT Cloud, which has not been accessible for a while (a negative point) and was relieved to find everything in pristine condition, no multiplication or unexpected deletions plus useful Trash pages from which restoration can be done if necessary. I have decided from this to use that account as my long-term backup archive. DropBox has a very good Trash (from which restorations can be done), it gives a complete history of both adding and deleting with details of who / what computer has been involved. However. like some other folk, I found this ‘history’ has lots of actions recorded which I am entirely unable to account for! Utterly mysterious, and a cause of concern about whether or not somebody else / some other computer has had access. One can understand this happening in a business or other organisation but my accounts and computer are completely private, I dont even (so far) go in for any ‘sharing’. Sometime I hope I will find out what has been going on. It means I will not use DropBox deliberately for anything for which security is important.

      ChrisC

  18. One other major concern with Google Docs is the rights issue. Last I was aware, Google’s policies claim that THEY have the right to search, scan, store, sell onward, or do most anything they want to with your content. But then, Google’s Terms of Service say that they do NOT claim copyright over your material.

    Perhaps this issue is a red herring; perhaps it also lives within in any cloud-based services system in which the services provider retains the right to scan, analyze, and derive their own business value from the works you place in files on their system.

    But if I were looking at a business application, small or large, I’d want to get some pretty smart intellectual property legal assistance first.

    What thoughts, experiences, observations do you good folks have about this?

  19. Thanks very much for this helpful information. OneDrive is a terrific concept that Microsoft degrades by forcing users into the “if you want A you have to accept B” proposition that is also well-known to Google, Apple, Adobe and many other companies. In this case, if you want OneDrive you need to have a Microsoft account, which means accepting everything else that comes with a Microsoft account whether you want it or not. You can’t simply ignore the rest of your Microsoft account because it will take actions on its own and pelt you with email if you don’t spend the time going through its labyrinthine settings

    Dropbox makes it much simpler: Just sign in and you’re good to go. That’s why I’m staying with Dropbox despite the additional advantages of OneDrive.

  20. Hey Leo. I am requesting help with a problem I am having with OneDrive. Several weeks ago I moved a WPS Spreadsheet into OneDrive and shared it with several people. Everything worked fine for a few weeks and then recently I attempted to make changes to the WPS Spreadsheet and no changes were allowed. After fumbling around for hours I found a setting for “Unprotecting” the spreadsheet and when I clicked on that it would allow changes. I made the changes, saved the file and thought that the problem was solved. The next day I checked the spreadsheet and found that my changes were gone and it appeared that the “Unprotecting” had been changed back to “Protected” and the option to “Unprotect” was no longer available. I have searched the web and various blogs to find a solution, without success. Several places said to click the Review Tab and then select “Unprotect”, but in my case that option is not available. I have canceled the sharing of this spreadsheet, but that did not help. Any ideas you have would be appreciated. Ed

    • You might try saving the spread sheet as a new document using Save as. This will allow any changes to be saved. Then you can either delete the previous version and rename the new one with the original name, or you can keep the old file as a reference and rename it.

  21. I understand that google plans to decouple docs applications from Drive, which i hope is true. I have one computer, with a large external storage drive that i use as the target for all cloud stuff. I dont download onto other computers (most os pictures, music, movies, and reading). Everything else can see and use without using space to download. If g oogle carries thru w thei decoupling, i will stay w them as main. Alternatively, of onedrive allows me totarget the external hard drive, they may become first. Then dropbox will be backup. I like appss local, and, I must say, i have not enjoyed some oof MS changes lately. i hate the version of word and, I cannot find words to express my frustrations with W10

  22. Does Dropbox works similar like OneDrive? If you create a document in DropBox is it stored as a real document .docx, .xlsx instead of “.gsheet”, “.gdoc”?

    I assume you prefer OneDrive more than DropBox only because OneDrive has larger free storage, other than that both their features are quite similar?

    Thanks

    • .gsheet and .gdoc are Google Drive, and that works differently. DropBox and OneDrive both work the same: your files are stored as files, no matter what the file type. So my spreadsheets are all .xlsx on all machines, and via the web interface. Both services are similar, but of course not identical.

  23. Does it mean that if I have a Microsoft document (e.g. created in Windows 7 PC and save as .docx) and I upload to google drive, as long as I do not use Google Docs to open it, it will remain the same format .docx?

    Is there other apps that can open the Microsoft document and do not change the file extension?

    Thanks

    • I think with Google Drive the rules are different. I think you CAN do that, but it’s also likely to be converted into a Google Sheet. That’s why I DON’T use Google Drive, but would use OneDrive or Dropbox instead.

  24. I recently expanded my Google Drive capacity in order to be able to have a backup of my MS Outlook (2010) work *.pst file, which is over 8GB. I have run into two problems … which maybe would be different on One Drive or Dropbox?

    The first problem is that the sync cannot complete correctly while I have Outlook open. Not necessarily a problem, if only I could control when the syncing happens for this file. But there does not appear to be any setting for that or app or add-in that I could find.

    The second problem is related. Because I am always using Outlook, my *.pst file is always changing. Google Drive is accordingly always trying to sync the massive 8GB file. I would like to only have my cloud software sync this file periodically, like once a week or once a month (or at night), but, again, I have not found anything to modify Google Drive’s setting.

    Are these problems avoided by any of the other options, such as One Drive?

    • I think you are going to have the same problem with any cloud service. A better option would be to use backup software, such as Macrium Reflect, and schedule a backup each day during the night so that the file gets backed up when it is not being used.

    • I don’t think these general purpose tools really solve what you’re looking for. Honestly, what I’d be tempted to do to continue using those tools would be to put my PST *outside* of the GoogleDrive/OneDrive/Dropbox folder, and then just have an automated task (perhaps) that copies the .PST into one of them when Outlook isn’t running.

  25. Hi Leo,

    Very useful article.

    I cannot imagine MS backs up all their OneDrive users’ stores. So if they were hacked or had an severe outage, I would feel best having a backup of all files I placed up onto OneDrive.

    My major reason to use OneDrive is to keep 2 desktops and one laptop in sync from an Office files perspective. I don’t really see it so much as backup, but more like sync (a poor man’s server)

    I use Google App for Work and I purchased a 3rd party service called Backupify that performs regular backups across all my GAW data — email, calendar, contracts, Drive, sites, etc.

    So how would I backup OneDrive?

    Thanks.

    • OneDrive displays as a folder on your computer. With most backup programs you would be able to include that folder in your regular backups to an external drive.

    • You have the files on a PC, yes? So, back up that PC. That’ll back up everything on it, including your OneDrive files.

      (And for the record, I’d can’t imagine MS NOT backing up all user stores.)

  26. I know this post was a year ago but I wanted to raise the issue that Microsoft just announced that they are cutting back on OneDrive space. I could go for the free Office 365 but I like my Office 2013 I got for $10 with corporate discount. I’ve been a free Dropbox user for awhile so maybe it is time to premium. Any thoughts from anyone?

    • I don’t see any responses to your query (but again, this is an OLD thread, so/but I’m sure you’ve found out by now that a $99 per year subscription to Office 365 get’s you a Terabyte of Cloud storage for EACH of the five devices/profiles you incorporate under your ONE fee/subscription.

      Cheers,
      Michael

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