OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage offering. Under various names, it’s been around since 2007, but has been overshadowed until fairly recently by competitors Dropbox and Google Drive.
Like Dropbox, it provides online cloud storage. And like Google Drive, it lets users edit, create and collaborate on documents directly from a web browser.
So does OneDrive measure up to the tools you’re already used to using? That depends. But if you use Microsoft Office a lot, this might be the solution you’ve been looking for.
To understand how OneDrive works, what you can use it for and who it’s best suited for, we’ve broken down the tool below.
OneDrive lets you store documents online and gives you the Office toolkit (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) inside the OneDrive web application, letting you work on documents with others in your web browser. It’s integrated with Windows 10 and comes as part of the Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) subscription package, so you can also access OneDrive from Microsoft 365.
Specify the files and folders you want to update and they’ll be automatically updated both on OneDrive in the cloud and on all your other devices where OneDrive is set up.
OneDrive works best on Windows, as you’d expect. It’s baked into the OS on Windows 10: you’ll find it in the navigation panel next to Documents, Desktop and so on. The web interface is a little more lackluster, and loses by comparison with Google Drive, but the mobile apps are excellent for Android and iOS are excellent.
OneDrive pricing and plans
OneDrive has a free plan and a very low-cost plan, both of which offer storage only. To get the full range of OneDrive features, you’ll need to sign up to Microsoft 365. In that sense, OneDrive is essentially two products: a storage solution on its own, or a productivity and collaboration tool in conjunction with Microsoft 365.
Here are the main plans:
- 5 GB storage limit
- Personal vault with space for 3 files
Onedrive 100 GB
- $1.99 per month
- 100 GB storage
- Storage only
- Personal vault with space for 3 files
Then there are the more capable versions, such as these:
Microsoft 365 Personal
(Formerly Office 365 Personal)
- $69.99 per year, or $6.99 per month
- 1 TB storage
- Microsoft 365—Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook
- Multiple devices—PC, Mac, iOS and Android
- Personal vault with the same space as the OneDrive storage limit
- PC folder backup
- Expiring shared links
- Ransomware detection & recovery
- Files restore
- Password protected sharing links
- Multi-page scan
- Offline folders
- Increased sharing limit
- Expandable storage up to 2 TB
- Free Office for the web
- PC folder backup
- Advanced sync technology
- Mobile apps
- Web-based access
- Search & discover
- Edit & annotate files
- Files On-Demand
Other Microsoft 365 plans come with OneDrive, with varying amounts of storage and access to varying versions of the Microsoft 365 toolkit and wider Microsoft ecosystem.
Microsoft 365 Family
(Formerly Office 365 Home)
- $99.99 per year, or $9.99 per month
- 6 TB total storage—1 TB each for up to 6 users
- Other features the same as Microsoft 365 Personal
Other versions of Microsoft Apps have different levels of access for OneDrive, as they do for other Microsoft tools. Here’s the guide to Microsoft Apps subscription packages.
OneDrive key features
- All-device access. Access files from any device using native apps and or a web browser.
- Sharing options. Share files inside and outside your organization using their email addresses, even if they don’t have a Microsoft Services Account.
- Collaborate with Microsoft Office tools. Work in spreadsheets, documents, and presentations in real time in the Office web, mobile and desktop apps.
- Search powered by the Microsoft Graph API. Get file recommendations based on your relationships, how you received files and when you last accessed them.
- Security and compliance. Microsoft Apps bundles have security and compliance features that scale as the bundles’ functionality does, and include enterprise-grade protections in the enterprise packages.
Additional features include:
- Known Folder Move
- OneDrive Files On-Demand
- Modern attachments
- Seamlessly connecting files to conversations
- Intelligent discover with OneDrive Discover view
- OneDrive Files Restore
- Recycle bin
- Data loss prevention (DLP)
- Auditing and reporting
- Encryption of data in transit and at rest
- Customer-controlled encryption keys
- Microsoft 365 Customer Lockbox
- Hybrid integration with SharePoint Server
- OneDrive Multi-Geo storage locations
- Government cloud
What makes OneDrive different?
The main thing that stands out about OneDrive is its integration with the Microsoft ecosystem. If you’re familiar with using a Windows PC the interface will have pretty much no learning curve, and the app is already right there on your Windows 10 desktop.
However, this can be a deficiency too. Microsoft offers apps for the web, desktop, and mobile, but it’s more of a walled garden than Google Drive, with less storage in the lower-cost versions.
OneDrive is an offering where it doesn’t make a lot of sense to mix and match: if you’re just looking for cloud storage, Drive and Dropbox are better choices. If you primarily use Microsoft Office apps and you want cloud storage that matches and integrates closely with them, OneDrive is hard to beat—though it does have some deficiencies.
OneDrive’s interface is slick and easy to use, especially if you’re familiar with PCs. That’s a big plus if you’re looking for a business solution that requires very little onboarding.
Apps and web accessibility
OneDrive can be accessed from native apps on nearly every device, as well as through a web browser. The native apps give a faster experience and the mobile apps are particularly good, with good speed and functionality and well-designed interfaces.
Deeply integrated with Windows 10 and Microsoft 365
The deep integrations with Microsoft’s flagship desktop OS and productivity suite give OneDrive users benefits like file syncing, meaning you can work offline if your connection’s patchy or you’re on the move.
Strong online photo presentation and management
OneDrive displays photos and images in its web interface particularly well, and uses AI-enabled autotagging to make images more searchable too. Images can be shared with specific share and edit rights, and you can see the tags and even the camera data and geolocation tags of images.
There’s even OCR to extract text from images. In general, OneDrive makes finding and working with the right image a lot faster and easier.
Relatively little free storage
OneDrive comes with relatively little storage for its free version. The free version of OneDrive offers just 5 GB of storage, compared with 15 GB free storage on Google Drive. If you’re planning to use the free version mainly for storage, OneDrive isn’t the best choice.
No zero-knowledge encryption
When you put files on OneDrive, they’re stored on a Microsoft server—and Microsoft can see them. It’s hard to see how Microsoft could provide some of the services they offer—AI image tagging, for instance—without this access. But when Microsoft (and not you) holds your encryption keys, you’re less secure. This is true of all the other major cloud storage offerings as well, however.
Limited file versioning
File versioning is saving older versions of a file so you can revert the file or track changes over time. Google Docs is pretty good at it, giving highly granular document versioning even with its free offering. OneDrive is a little clunkier, with longer times between saved versions. And Microsoft limits Personal users to a 30-day version history, and business users to 500 versions.
Limited customer support
Microsoft doesn’t offer strong customer support. Google’s customer support—especially for its business customers – is comprehensive and excellent, including highly-competent phone support. By contrast, OneDrive offers minimal support, though you can access additional support through the Windows 10 Get Help app.
Microsoft scans your images
Microsoft can see everything that’s on your OneDrive account. And if they see an image that they think shouldn’t be there, especially if they think it violates copyright, they’ll remove it.
Wrap up: Here’s what we recommend
Should you use it?
Microsoft OneDrive has some excellent features, particularly its image management system and its deep integrations with Microsoft 365. But it’s at its most useful when you use it as a part of your Microsoft-enabled productivity efforts. Considered as a standalone service, its 100 GB offering might be temporarily useful but other cloud storage tools are a better choice for syncing with your productivity tools.
Who should use it?
Microsoft OneDrive is an excellent choice if you’re already regularly using the Windows/Microsoft ecosystem. It’s integrated deeply, uses the same kind of interface, and functions as a natural addition to your existing toolkit. It’s especially good if you need the ability to collaborate online and you’re primarily a Microsoft user.
Who should avoid it?
If you already have a non-Microsoft productivity flow up and running, and you just need some cloud storage, there are options out there that will give you more control or more storage, and that will integrate better with your core productivity tools.