Microsoft OneDrive: New features allow business users to stay on top of sharing and sync status

Microsoft's cloud-based file hosting/synchronisation service adds new options for managing the content that matters to you.

Microsoft OneDrive: A cheat sheet

When someone shares a file with you through OneDrive, they might mail you a link or just put it in a folder you have access to. Going back and finding the file you need when you didn't get to choose where to put it can take far too long. Now OneDrive commercial is getting a version of the 'Add to my OneDrive' feature that's been in consumer OneDrive for a while -- and the improvements to the feature should show up in the consumer service as well.

"The notion is we should make it easier for you to manage all the stuff you care about, even if it wasn't the stuff you put somewhere or the stuff that you created. 'Add to OneDrive' is essentially the answer to the question of how do I organise all that stuff I see that's shared with me," Jason Moore, partner group manager for OneDrive, told TechRepublic.

SEE: Microsoft Teams: How-to guide (TechRepublic download)

"We've had it for several years on OneDrive consumer. We've been able to learn a lot from that, and some of the under-the-cover improvements that we've made with this coming to commercial will go back to make the consumer version better and more reliable faster, and so on. Whether you're a consumer user, whether you're a commercial user, whether you're an educational user -- you should be able to organise the world of content that comes at you just as well as you can organise your [own] content. And it's Microsoft 365, so it's respecting best-in-class security, governance and compliance -- all of those things come with it, without the user having to stress."

Share and add

The new option will be available in OneDrive and in SharePoint Online. On the OneDrive website, when you select a folder that's been shared with you under Shared with me (or in one of the shared libraries from SharePoint that show up here), the 'Add shortcut to my files' button will appear in the toolbar.

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The new Add to OneDrive option appears for folders that have been shared with you.

Image: Microsoft

That puts the folder into the top level of your OneDrive, which means you can access it through Files On-Demand on Windows or Mac (and sync the files offline if you choose). It gets a different icon to make it obvious it's a shared folder; if the shared folder has the same name as your own folders, it will include the name of the person who shared it, so you can tell which is which. (Those are both features we hope come to the consumer in OneDrive, because they remove a lot of potential confusion.)

In future, you might be able to pick where in your folder hierarchy shared folders show up, Gaia Carini, principal program manager for the OneDrive Sync team, told us. "That's something that we're considering for future versions of the feature."

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If you add a shared folder that has the same name as a folder you created, it shows who owns the folder.

Image: Microsoft

More sophistication with files and folders is an important part of handling the increasing usage of cloud storage and avoiding unintended consequences from sharing content, Moore suggested. 

"As people move their content and their collections to the cloud, we're entering a world where it's not just 'here's my shared content'. Before this we had file shares with everything, and before that we had a hard disk so we could unplug it, and before that we were moving floppies between devices. I think we're now entering a place where people have so much content that we're going to have to be much more sensitive and thoughtful about these challenges, about hierarchy and depth and potential overload. We're all taking more photos and more videos, creating more files and more content is auto-generated. How do I apply even more organisation on that just to deal with the fact that there's so much stuff?"

SEE: How to share files using Microsoft OneDrive (TechRepublic)

There are already controls. Admins can prevent users from sharing files from their OneDrive; if that happens to someone who has shared a folder that you've added to your OneDrive the folder won't disappear, but when you try to open it you'll see a notification that you no longer have access. If the person who shared with you leaves the organization, you'll get a prompt to remove the shortcut. In the longer term, OneDrive might get a 'transfer ownership' option that covers this, but that's not on the roadmap yet.

'Add to OneDrive' starts rolling out to production in September 2020, but as usual it can take some time to reach all tenants.

Microsoft is also cleaning up a few oddities about file sharing; shared libraries that require you to add metadata to files for compliance reasons have previously synced as read-only. Now you'll be able to edit files in those libraries on devices you sync them to.

When you move a shared file from one shared library to another, people you've already shared it with don't currently have access to it after the move. Soon, you'll be able to choose to keep sharing a file even when you move it; that will send a notification with a link to the new location to anyone who already had access. However, that only works when you use the 'Move to' button in the OneDrive web interface; dragging files into another OneDrive folder inside File Explorer in Windows or Finder on macOS will still break the links.

Simpler link sharing

Teams integrates OneDrive very neatly -- it's what you see on the files tab. If you want to send someone a link to a file you can see in Teams, you don't have to invite them into the same team; you can now share a file as a link and choose if it's accessible to everyone, just people within your organization, people with existing access, or specific people -- including those in a private or group chat, even if they're added after the file was shared with the chat participants.

And if you're on the enterprise OneDrive site, or working with a OneDrive file in a browser app like Word on the web, and you don't want to click the Share button just to have to click the Copy Link button to get a URL you can send someone else in your organisation, you'll soon be able to just copy the URL out of the browser address bar. If the folder the file is in has access restrictions, they'll apply to the URL and admins can turn this off for folders likely to contain sensitive files.

Sometimes, sharing is too easy, so there are more controls coming for admins to manage external sharing; they will be able to limit external sharing to users in specific security groups and set default expiry dates for OneDrive items shared externally (the suggested default will be 60 days). Admins can also now use the Set-SPOSite PowerShell command to override the link expiry policy for individual users' OneDrive.

Better admin tracking

OneDrive commercial currently has its own admin portal at admin.onedrive.com, which opens in a separate browser tab from the SharePoint Online admin portal. Later this year, all the OneDrive admin tools will move into the main SharePoint admin centre so you can see them all in the same place and get better reporting.

There are already org-level reports that admins can use to track internal and external sharing. "Reporting becomes critical, because analysis is going to drive the next step of 'how am I doing business analysis on how we're using these services to get the most return on investment for our organisation, and to make sure that we're doing the right things, that we're compliant and we haven't had any data exfiltration and so on'," Moore said.

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A mockup depicting what the OneDrive sync health dashboard will show to admins.

Image: MIcrosoft

The new OneDrive sync health dashboard coming later this year will give admins more information about how well OneDrive is working for users.

Those details show up in an executive summary that admins can click through for more detail, all the way down to the actual error messages users will see, in the language used on their device. "If it's a multinational company that has employees all over the world, we want to make sure the admin knows what the user would see as well as what the actual error is so they can best help the user," Carini explained.

"The goal of the sync admin reports is really to make it easier for admins, from small businesses to large organisations, to get insights into the status, their deployment of the sync client and in particular the known folder move feature, which automatically syncs your desktop documents and pictures folders, and then also help them drive down sync errors," Carini told TechRepublic. It shows what admins have told the OneDrive team they want to see: how many devices have sync error, which Known Folders are opted into OneDrive sync, and the last time a device was fully in sync.

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