OneDrive, the experience you use to get to all your files

OneDrive use to be where I have “my OneDrive” but now OneDrive lets me get to all my files – my personal and all the files shared with me on different sites.  This includes those connected with groups, as well as perhaps communication sites and document repositories across the service.


But, was it always this way?

When I first dived in to Office 365 in late 2013 the first workload I looked at was SkyDrive Pro, which was later re-branded OneDrive for Business; SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro are now OneDrive and OneDrive for Business – announced January 27, 2014.  The product looked very different back than with a closer resemblance to the on-premises SharePoint Server 2013 My Site to the product that we see before us today.  The user interface was dominated by what we now refer to as a classic document library feel and surfaced only my personal files and a view of what others had explicitly shared with me from their OneDrive for Business sites. There was no link to other SharePoint Online team sites and of course this predated connected sites from Office 365 Groups – so, it was just about personal files.

Enter 2014 and in addition to the name change (see link above) the OneDrive product team would start to play with some expanded scenarios for OneDrive for Business. The first of these would arrive mid-2014 and was “Site Folders”; a feature originally shipping as part of SharePoint 2013.  Here the OneDrive team added a Site Folders link to the OneDrive for Business web view that would take you straight to the document libraries for the SharePoint sites you follow.

OneDrive web UI showing “Site Folders” link

Later in that same year Microsoft announced Office 365 Groups – a membership service that provides a single identity for teams in Office 365 and sets up a collection of resources for those people to share including a shared mailbox, calendar and a “shared file repository“; a OneDrive for Business site (a document library).  To support this scenario and further the idea of OneDrive being the experience for all your files the team also added a “Groups” section in the left rail of the OneDrive web user interface (UI) showing all the Office 365 groups user is a member of.

In 2015, OneDrive for Business would get a complete overhaul in every way possible – new web UI would launch, new file synchronization tool would be announced, and the mobile app would take a big leap forward with offline files capabilities and an early introduction in to file preview capabilities.   Looking back most of the work could be classified as foundational but, would set OneDrive for Business on this new course and pave the way for many new experiences and tighter integration across the Office 365 suite.

OneDrive web UI showing “Sites” – early iterations of Groups Files

By 2016, the new OneDrive for Business web UI would form the basis of the new SharePoint Online document and list experiences.  You might think that this speaks to SharePoint more than OneDrive but, I like to think of it the other way – the OneDrive site’s document library UI comes to SharePoint.  Providing a common user experience (UX) across personal and shared [team] sites. Shortly after, in May 2016 at The Future of SharePoint event Microsoft announced the arrival of the SharePoint mobile app, which in itself was most welcomed but, what was most interesting here is the decisive positioning of OneDrive as the access point for all your files stored in SharePoint Online document libraries and Office 365 Groups. So, from the SharePoint mobile app you could select the Files menu and it would switch to OneDrive mobile and app.  And similarly, from the OneDrive mobile app they added a new Sites menu, which would surface your SharePoint sites enabling you to navigate all your Files.  So, this experience was starting to come together – you have the OneDrive for Business web UI surfacing your Group Files alongside your personal and when on the go you have your OneDrive mobile doing the same.  But, what about syncing your files to your computer?  Well, at the Microsoft Ignite 2016 conference the OneDrive team announced the SharePoint Online sync preview – giving you the ability to sync SharePoint Online document libraries and OneDrive folders shared with you.  But, it didn’t end there.

While many product teams were caught up with the Microsoft Teams fan fair of late 2016, the OneDrive team got straight to work in 2017 on smoothing out some rough edges and harmonizing the UI pieces across all entry points.  A major piece of work would include a common sharing UI that would eventually roll out to File Explorer and Office clients (Office Online and Office Client) too.  Why is this important you might ask? Just as OneDrive is the experience you use to get to all your files it’s also the experience you use to share your files too.  But, it didn’t end there.

OneDrive sharing UI – shown here in the web UI, used across all entry points

At Microsoft Build 2017 the Windows team announced that OneDrive Files on demand would be coming to Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. With OneDrive Files On-Demand— you can access all your files without using up your device storage.  This feature allows you to create a sync relationship with all your SharePoint Online sites and show all the folders and files, even when offline but, without filling up your local storage.  It tightly integrates into the Windows Filesystem so that you can browse and navigate natively and fluidly from the File Explorer and even if the file is not cached it will seamless download and open without needing to perform any additional steps. So, now OneDrive as the experience for all your files is helping you stay in control especially as the amount of information we are generating is fast outgrowing our local storage solutions.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update – OneDrive Files-on-demand

It’s July 2018 and the OneDrive team are not slowing down – we have already seen some major updates to mobile, external sharing added password protection for links and OneDrive sync now supports known folder moves.  There are so many more features of OneDrive I did not touch on in this article – perhaps an article for another day. But in this article, I wanted to focus on the idea of OneDrive being the experience for all your files.  As you can see it has been an evolving story for the OneDrive team – mostly as it took time for certain pieces to fall in to place before they could ultimately realize their vision for this single experience for all your Files.  With a consistent UI across all entry points and this common theme of OneDrive at the center of your files – certainly makes for a compelling story.

As a final note – earlier this month Microsoft OneDrive named again as a leader in Gartner Magic Quadrant for Content Collaboration Platforms for the second year running – Congratulations to the entire OneDrive team!  This certainly speaks to many of the ideas I have touched on here today but also with a strong focus on sharing and collaborating, which I will have to leave for another day.  But, do check out the full report if your company is still to decide on your collaboration and productivity tool set.  Also check out my post: You’re not using Office 365 yet? I have five reasons to change your mind

Let me know your thoughts on the topic – do you feel that the story is complete?  If not, please do share by leaving a comment below.

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