Microsoft OneDrive, What’s in a name?

Posted on February 19, 2014


‘Microsoft launches OneDrive globally, with some freebies’.

More on the freebie ‘Microsoft to give 100GB free OneDrive storage to early birds’.

So it’s out with a big fanfare and more obfuscation for the humble consumer and business user alike as they get their heads around a name change and a few new bells and whistles but still need to struggle on with some core issues.

As with all things tech today, by the time you read this things may well have moved on, but at the time of writing and probably a while thereafter this will still reflect the state of play.

The naming of OneDrive (Formerly SkyDrive) and OneDrive for Business (Formerly SkyDrive Pro) represents a continued naming convention aberration that Microsoft suffers from in a long history of such faux pas:

  • Explorer – Do you mean Internet Explorer or File Explorer?
  • Exchange Hosted Services or did you mean Hosted Services for Exchange?
  • IIS or IIS? – Was that ‘Internet Information Server’ or ‘Identity Integration Server’?

And don’t forget the mother of all confusions with Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT. As if they did not get enough from that then they go and do the Surface and Surface Pro thing!

The renaming to OneDrive, whether a quaint echoing of the home of Microsoft at ‘1 Redmond Way’ or the more obvious ‘Only Drive you will need‘, was a missed opportunity to correct the confusion, but no in blinkered mode Microsoft crash on regardless.

Personally I think OneDrive would have worked nicely for the consumer application, but something more akin to the former ‘SharePoint Workspaces’ comes across as more meaningful for the business iteration. After all that’s exactly what it is, SharePoint Workspaces on your local PC.

If the problems were all in the name then that would be the end of the issue, but it’s not. The functionality of both iterations is well below standard for Microsoft. If you get the right people in a corner they will confirm that SkyDrive Pro (OneDrive for Business) is broken. Yes you read that right, and if our experience with clients and our own internal use has anything to go by we cannot agree more.

OneDrive for Business may be a fresh name but the authentication, sync and reliability issues all remain.

Remember ‘MESH’, it worked, it was rock solid, so what happens it gets dumped in favour of an inferior ‘Live Mesh’ soon to be ‘SkyDrive’ and now OneDrive. See my blog on that at the time for some history.

OneDrive still maintains a long list of poor end user experience and feedback characteristics including:

  • Online / Offline indicators could be clearly identified on file Glyphs, not hidden in a distant column only visible in detail view.
  • Users should have a choice on set-up about what is held offline or online so they start from a known baseline.
  • Toolbar indicator of activity on the desktop is coming back a last, why would such a fundamental visual queue have been removed??
  • The Windows 8 App is an exercise in screen inefficiency and lacks detailed view.
  • Sync’ing needs to be more network savvy. It still visible impacts network activity and cannot be easily managed form the desktop short of switching it off. Some form of ‘Pause’ feature with visible flag to ID outstanding sync items. It would also be useful to priorities uploads.
  • With privacy and security so important greater identification of file sharing, again with some form of Icon at folder level so inadvertent sharing does not happen.

OneDrive for Business is simply broken, for example:

  • Hours lost to corrupted files that seem to occur due to poor sync management.
  • Offline clash management seems to not work most of the time defaulting to a red cross and failed sync.
  • Login demands (made worse when you are running Single Sign On). One trick here is to flush your cached credentials in the ‘Windows Credential Manager’, but this should not be necessary.
  • Running multiple O365 Accounts there is no clarity as to which account it is asking you to login to! Take a look at the dialogue box below, guess what resource this is accessing? Easy if you only have one Office 365 resource you’re syncing, but if you have multiple, this user experience needs enhancing.

  • Sync Manager is like a developer’s prototype basic.
  • In Window RT it can only Sync with your default My Site, no SharePoint library connectivity and then only online! This gives little advantage over accessing the SharePoint site direct.
  • Why can I not Sync at a Folder level within a SharePoint Library? This renders the tool somewhat useless in many scenarios as the sync volume is so large to take a whole library offline when I just want a folder.

I can go on, but I think you get the point.

As for a call to Microsoft Support well that seems to end with the suggestion of removing a sync’d Library then re-connecting it. Not well received when you are working in the real world of mobile broadband, or even on a small business network, being asked to pull down gigabytes of data all over again does not win friends. It would be nice to be able to re-attach volumes to a new OneDrive for Business instance to save re-syncing everything again.

That I regret is not the end of the tale. The interaction with SyDrive in either of its iterations is having fall-out on the great MS Office applications boot up times, and sometimes failing to boot-up ‘full-stop’! We are still analyzing the Office impact where Office Pro has become so Sloooow to open anything in these drives even when offline, so the findings shared here are without a clear solution.

The responsiveness of MS Office 2013 is a real end user issue when using SkyDrive/OneDrive. Users are killing the apps thinking they have hung and then try to start them again causing a chain reaction of corruption when opening apps by clicking on a file in a sync’d folder. Our advice is to start the app first then open a document using the ‘Open’ menu option from within the app. Not ideal and hardly an optimized user experience but it resolves the issue of apps like Word and Excel etc hanging and getting corrupted. When using Office Pro with Office 365, the repeated opening and closing of an app can cause a corruption requiring the Office install to repair itself. Sometimes a quick repair does it but often a full repair is required which demands an Internet connection, OK on a fixed network connection but costly if not impossible on mobile or public WiFi link, and a complete nightmare when you’re on an 8 hour flight and Office refuses to do anything without an internet connection!

This goes back to the core issue of Microsoft as a service company. They are falling foul of their heritage as a product company in their attempt to be a Services entity, services are about end user experience, and OneDrive products come across as being developed as a collection of features first and functional experience second. The danger for Microsoft now where user’s ownership is no longer an issue or tie in, a poor experience will see users up and running with a competing solution in less than 15 minutes. Welcome to the world of services…

Any wonder DropBox and Box are so sticky in the enterprise. Thank your ‘Supreme Principle’ of choice Microsoft that Apple are so inept with their iCloud or there could be more heat from that goliath. As an aside the fact that Apple iCloud uses Windows Azure is an interesting bit of trivia that would probably have Microsoft seeing money in their back pocket if iCloud was more successful!