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OneDrive Sync Changes Coming with Windows 10

Microsoft is planning to unify the synchronization engine used with its OneDrive cloud storage service, but that move will bring a feature change for Windows 10 users.

A change in the sync engine might be unremarkable except that it also entails losing a "placeholders" file storage feature in Windows 10, at least in its present form. Placeholders, which is also called "smart files" by Microsoft, allows people to browse files stored across in the cloud without those files actually taking up disk space on their devices. The feature displays a file's icon and metadata information, while the bits of the actual file are stored in Microsoft's OneDrive service datacenters.

Windows 10, when released in the latter part of this year, won't include the engine for the placeholders feature. Instead, Microsoft will issue an update to Windows 10 later this calendar year that will add "the core capabilities of placeholders," according to Chris Jones, corporate vice president of OneDrive and SharePoint, who explained the changes to come in a blog post last week.

Jones said that Microsoft is opting to build on the sync engine that's associated with the older Windows 7 and Windows 8 OSes, going forward, instead of the current leading-edge build. Future OneDrive releases will tap a single sync engine that will be used across Windows versions ranging from Windows 7 through Windows 10, he explained.

Microsoft had introduced the placeholders feature in Windows 8.1, which had a different sync engine than the one used for Windows 7/8. There also was a separate sync engine for OneDrive for Business, making three separate sync engines in total.

The sync engine designed for Windows 8.1 was not without problems, according to Jones. He pointed to higher failure rates with the copy, delete and move operations. Some apps didn't work with it. There were download time-out problems. Moreover, people were just confused about whether the placeholder files were indicating that the files were stored on their machines or stored in the cloud.

Jones suggested that most OneDrive users would just see benefits from the new unified sync engine approach that Microsoft plans to take.

Microsoft offers OneDrive as a consumer service and as a business service (which is called "OneDrive for Business"). The OneDrive services have had their storage capacities gradually increased in recent years. Consumers now can get 10GB of free storage. Microsoft promised back in late October that Office 365 subscribers would eventually see "unlimited" OneDrive for Business storage included in the service. Subscribers to the Office ProPlus productivity suite also are getting free access to unlimited OneDrive for Business storage, and that's expected to kick in sometime this month.

It's not clear how the the inclusion of the "core capabilities of placeholders" will look in Windows 10 when that OS gets updated. Jones didn't provide those details. He did say that Microsoft plans to release a Mac client version of One Drive for Business sometime later this month. Microsoft also is working to synchronize shared folders when used with the OneDrive service. The shared folders sync capability is expected to be added sometime this summer. Window 10, when released, will include this new shared folders feature, Jones stated.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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