What is OneDrive? Should You Use It?

Although Microsoft OneDrive has been around for almost a decade and a half, you might just be exploring it now. With ever increasing demands for finding smart cloud storage solutions, OneDrive is a strong contender in this area, drawing attention from all sizes of businesses, as well as from sole proprietorships.

So what is OneDrive? It is Microsoft’s cloud storage service (previously called SkyDrive), where customers can store files and documents offsite. This serves a multitude of purposes, including:

  • Creating safe backup copies of files and folders away from your physical location in case of a hard drive crash or natural disaster.
  • Keeping all copies current through constant updates and synching.
  • Sharing document permissions with anyone at any time.
  • Synching saved passwords and app settings.

OneDrive is a subscription service from Microsoft, although you can try it for free with limited storage. Accessing your files is as easy as opening a web browser.

Quite a few competitors exist for OneDrive in the cloud storage and synchronization space, so we’ll help you decide if this service is worth your time and money.

Should You Use OneDrive?

The majority of small businesses and sole proprietorships can make use of a cloud storage network service, such as OneDrive. Cloud storage services in general offer a number of benefits, including those we listed earlier.

But once you understand what is OneDrive, you then can decide, should you use OneDrive over the others? We’ll break down the pros and cons of this Microsoft cloud storage service.

Pros for Using OneDrive

  • Works seamlessly with Windows 10. If you already use Windows 10 on your computer or laptop, Microsoft configures OneDrive to serve as the default cloud storage option for Windows 10 users. If you want your cloud backup storage service to be as easy to use as possible, pairing OneDrive and Windows 10 works well.
  • Synchronizes across all Windows and Microsoft devices. When you save your files from one device to OneDrive, the cloud service allows you to automatically sync those changes to other devices that are sharing your OneDrive account. If you have an older computer running Windows 8 or are using an Xbox One console, these units can access your OneDrive account too, receiving the latest file changes you’ve made on your Windows 10 computer.
  • Integrates closely with Microsoft 365. If you hold a Microsoft 365 subscription, these apps are set up to work seamlessly with OneDrive for online storage. Within the Microsoft 365 apps, such as Word or Excel, you’ll see an AutoSave button near the top left corner of the app window. Turn this on, and the app will automatically save your work every few seconds to your OneDrive account.
  • It’s free to try OneDrive. For those who have minimal cloud storage needs or who want to try this service before committing to a monthly subscription price, OneDrive offers users up to 5 GB of free storage. You can use this 5 GB to test the service and its interface, seeing how well it works with your preferred method of workflow before committing to using it more extensively.
  • Large storage capacity for Microsoft 365 subscribers. If you subscribe to Microsoft 365, you automatically receive 1 TB of OneDrive storage with your subscription (roughly equal to 1,000 GB). Microsoft 365 subscribers have the option to purchase up to another 1 TB of storage in OneDrive for a total of 2 TB, if desired. With how easily OneDrive works with the Microsoft 365 apps, having such a large amount of cloud storage included with the purchase price makes using OneDrive a smart choice for Microsoft 365 subscribers.
  • OneDrive works across many device types. Because you’ll access OneDrive through a web browser, you can use it with any device that has Internet access, including Windows and Macintosh computers, Apple mobile devices, and mobile devices that run the Android operating system. To be fair, the majority of cloud storage services can work across multiple devices, but there are occasional issues with incompatibilities. You never have to worry about this with OneDrive.
  • Automatically uploads smartphone photos and videos. With the OneDrive app for mobile devices, you can set it up to automatically send copies of all of your photos and videos to your OneDrive account. This step occurs in the background, so you don’t even realize it is happening. You can set it up to only work when you have a connection to WiFi to guard against data usage limits. Having an automatic backup capability like this allows OneDrive to outperform some other cloud storage apps.
  • Frees up space on a laptop hard drive. With the On Demand feature within OneDrive, you can choose to physically move certain files from your laptop hard drive into the cloud. This frees up space on a hard drive that may be too full. You can access these files through the OneDrive app just as easily as you can any other file. Should you need to download them to your local hard drive again, this is an easy process too. This feature is found on a few other cloud storage systems, but OneDrive’s On Demand works especially well.
  • Easily organizes your files and folders. One of the key things to understand about what is OneDrive is that you can completely organize your stored items in whatever way you want. Although most cloud storage services allow you to organize your files in whatever way makes the most sense for you, not all of them do.
  • Interface is well designed. If you’re someone who has concerns about the time required to learn how to use a new app or piece of software, you’ll appreciate the simple interface with OneDrive. You can gain a high level of proficiency with the OneDrive app in almost no time.
  • Extra security for some files. OneDrive recently introduced a feature called Personal Vault, which provides extra security, using two-factor authentication, for those files you place into this section of your OneDrive account. This is a time saving feature, as you only need to apply the extra layer of security to those files that need it rather than to all of your files stored in the cloud.

Cons for Using OneDrive

  • Switching from another cloud storage service. If you already use another cloud storage provider, and you are happy with its performance, it’s tough to recommend making the switch to OneDrive. It’s just a hassle to make a switch like this. However, we would recommend a switch from a different cloud storage service for someone who has started using Microsoft 365 apps regularly, as pairing OneDrive with Microsoft 365 is a huge time saver.
  • Collaborating on files. If you are looking for project management and collaboration that will involve the files you have stored with your cloud storage service provider, a service like Google Drive might be a better choice than OneDrive. The OneDrive service does a nice job with collaboration, but there are options with stronger feature sets.
  • Concerns about privacy. Unlike some other cloud storage systems, Microsoft holds the right to scan any files stored with its OneDrive service for objectionable content. Although the service only flags illegal, explicit content or copyrighted material, you may not like the idea of allowing Microsoft to scan your files stored in the cloud.
  • Reduced free storage. If you only want to use the free version of OneDrive, you have 5 GB of storage capacity. A system like Google Drive provides similar features for free, but it delivers 15 GB of capacity.
  • Annual commitment for OneDrive. If you end up purchasing a OneDrive subscription for your business, you will pay anywhere from $5 to $10 per month per user on the account. Although this is a reasonable price versus other cloud storage options, you do have to make an annual commitment when you sign up for a OneDrive subscription, rather than going month to month.
  • Only able to automatically sync certain folders. Some OneDrive users may become confused by setting up the backup features with OneDrive, as the service will only sync files in certain folders. Primarily, you must store files in the OneDrive folder on your device to activate automatic sync. You may have to rework the way you organize your files and folders on the local hard drive before using OneDrive to ensure the synchronization feature is working like you want. To add another layer of confusion, OneDrive can sync files in certain default Windows folders, such as Pictures or Documents, depending on your OneDrive settings.

How to Use OneDrive

Now that we have shown you what is OneDrive, let’s discuss how you can put OneDrive to use. You will need to sign in to your Microsoft account to make use of OneDrive. Oftentimes, this is an automatic process when you are using OneDrive as a business user. Otherwise, you may need to sign in to your Microsoft account before you can access the OneDrive features.

Here are some of the different ways to use OneDrive.

  • Manually uploading files. Open the OneDrive home page to access your files stored in the cloud. Click Upload at the top of the window and select whether you want to upload files or folders. Pick the items you want to upload in the popup window and click Upload. You’ll see a status update at the top of the window as OneDrive copies the items to your OneDrive cloud account.
  • Uploading files with the OneDrive app. Within the OneDrive app, you’ll follow a similar process when manually uploading files from your computer. Click the Upload button and follow the prompts.
  • Automatically uploading files in Windows 10. If you would like to sync files between your local hard drive and OneDrive, open File Explorer in Windows 10. Along the left side of the window, you should see a OneDrive folder. To sync folders and files, place them into this OneDrive folder. OneDrive then will place a copy of these files into the cloud, using the same organizational structure you are using within the OneDrive folder. The automatic synching process occurs in the background.
  • Uploading files within Microsoft 365. To sync changes made to your Microsoft 365 files automatically while you’re working, slide the button next to AutoSave in the upper left corner from Off to On. OneDrive will then save your changes every few seconds while you are working.
  • Using Personal Vault. Earlier, we discussed OneDrive Personal Vault, which requires two-factor authentication to access its files, providing an extra layer of security. To add files to your Personal Vault area within OneDrive, click on the icon of the safe on your OneDrive home page and follow the prompts. You will need to set up your two-factor authentication before you can use Personal Vault for the first time.

Who Can See Your Files on OneDrive?

Understand that if you are using the business version of OneDrive, several other people may be able to see your files. If you are using OneDrive individually or as a sole proprietor, you should be able to keep your files private to you. Here are a few items to keep in mind.

  • Default privacy settings. With the default settings for using OneDrive as a personal user, only you can access and see your files. However, when using the collaborative features within OneDrive, you can share files with anyone else you want, meaning these people will have permission to see your files.
  • Granting and rescinding permission. When you grant permission to another person to collaborate on a file, he or she may edit or comment on your files. Once the collaboration is over, you will have the ability to remove the sharing permission, if desired.
  • Global administrator settings. If you are using OneDrive as part of your business environment with Microsoft 365, and if you have a global administrator, this person can see all of your files stored in OneDrive.
  • Stolen laptop or login information. If someone steals your laptop or gains access to your login credentials for OneDrive, it is possible they could gain access to your files. If you’re using two-factor authentication, though, this can make it far more difficult for a thief to access your OneDrive files.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira