If you've ever tried to send or receive an email with a large file attachment, you know just how frustrating that can be. It can bog your system or network down while the file is being transferred and quickly fill up your storage quota on the email server. It's also unnecessarily redundant — if you send the same email and file attachment to 10 different people, it will be downloaded and stored in 10 different locations. Fortunately, Microsoft is addressing the file attachment chaos with some new features introduced this week for Outlook Web Access (OWA) and OneDrive for Business.
In an era of cloud storage, it just seems silly to continue transferring entire files to be stored locally. Microsoft recognized the challenges facing customers and set out to address them.
"Now when you send files to others, instead of having to open the attachment, make edits, and then send the document back to you, everyone can simply open the document directly from the link and make edits in a single draft," explained the Office 365 Team in a blog post. "This means the people you're working with will always see the latest changes, and you can avoid confusion over multiple versions. It also allows multiple people to make changes to a single document at the same time using the Office clients or Office Online."
Office 365 customers can easily insert a link to a file stored in OneDrive for Business when sending emails from OWA. When you select Insert in OWA, you can choose "Attachments or OneDrive files." You can choose any files from OneDrive for Business, including files that have been shared with you from someone else. There's no needless transfer of data or duplicate copies of the same file sent to multiple recipients — just a link that allows the recipient to click and open the file directly from OneDrive for Business.
Even if the file is not already stored in OneDrive for Business, Microsoft has made it easy to seamlessly upload the file to the cloud. When you add a file attachment from the local device in OWA, you can opt to "Share with OneDrive" or "Send as attachment." If you choose to send it as a traditional attachment, the file will be sent along with the email — but if you choose "Share with OneDrive," the file will automatically be stored in OneDrive for Business, and the link to the file location will be sent in the email rather than the file itself.
OWA gives recipients of the OneDrive for Business link access to edit the file by default, but you can also manage the permissions if you prefer that recipients only be able to view the file without editing it. When the recipient gets the email, the file(s) shared from OneDrive for Business appear like any normal file attachment. The difference is that when they click to open the "attachment," it will instead open the link in the cloud on OneDrive for Business.
This streamlined method of sharing files also yields benefits when it comes to collaborating. Rather than 10 different recipients modifying 10 different versions of the file, everyone can view and edit the same file live on OneDrive for Business and collaborate in real-time.
Microsoft has already started rolling out the new features to some Office 365 customers and expects the capabilities to be available for all customers by November. The file sharing and collaboration features work with OWA, OWA for iPhone, OWA for iPad, and the pre-release version of OWA for Android. The new capabilities do not yet work with the desktop version of Outlook, but Microsoft says that it's working to incorporate these features into a future version of Outlook.
What are your thoughts about this streamlined method of sharing files? Tell us what you think in the discussion thread below.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.