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Microsoft Fixes OneDrive for Business Linux Problem

Microsoft has fixed an issue that slowed access to OneDrive and OneDrive for Business for Linux users, but not for Windows users.

The problem was described in a November Microsoft forum post regarding OneDrive for Business running on Ubuntu Linux 16.04, using the Chrome or Firefox browsers. According to that post, the user forced "a Windows user-agent" string on those browsers, which fixed the problem.

The same sort of problem (and resolution) was described a couple of days ago in a Reddit forum. In that case, the Firefox browser version 52 was used on the Linux Mint operating system to access OneDrive via an Office 365 subscription. That setup caused "a lot of performance issues," but not when Firefox was used on Windows 10 to access OneDrive. The forum participant, known as "Torrenator," changed Firefox's user-agent string to point to Windows, and it fixed the performance problems.

The implication seemed to be that Microsoft was doing some sort of browser sniffing, and perhaps it was intentionally thwarting OneDrive access by Linux users. However, Microsoft today responded in a Hacker News thread that it fixed the issue on March 22 and it wasn't intentionally blocking Linux users.

The announcement came from "Edgar," who claimed to be part of the Microsoft OneDrive team. He explained that the prefetching mechanism for Office Online applications was using a "less efficient technique" for Linux users:

We identified that StaticLoad.aspx, a page that prefetches resources in the background for Office online apps was using the link prefetching browser mechanism only for certain platforms (iOS, Chrome OS, Mac, Windows), but for Linux it was falling back to a less efficient technique that was causing the issue. Rest assured that this was not intentional. It was an oversight.

It's necessary to detect the browser because link prefetching technology isn't supported by every browser, according to Edgar. He cited the Safari browser as not having such support.

"The second technique does not hang on Safari on Mac, but it does on Chrome on Linux," Edgar explained. "We will definitely ensure that more Linux testing is done! Our goal in OneDrive is to build a service that enables as many people as possible to be productive, so if in cases it looks like we are trying to favor our own OS, that is not really our intention."

A Microsoft spokesperson today confirmed the fix.

"Some users may have experienced difficulty accessing OneDrive for Business on Linux," a Microsoft spokesperson stated via e-mail. "This issue has been fully resolved."

Currently, there's a OneDrive for Linux client that's available at the GitHub repository. It was described back in 2015 as an "unofficial" product created by "an independent developer."

It's not really clear if Microsoft supports OneDrive on Linux, even though people are making that combination work.

In other such news, it turns out that synchronizing OneDrive for Business clients with on premises resources and online resources is fairly complex. Depending on what's being done, organizations may have to run both the OneDrive for Business client and the Groove client, which is the old precursor to the OneDrive cloud storage service. The various scenarios and approaches to follow are explained in this announcement today by Bill Baer, senior product marketing manager for SharePoint.

About the Author

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

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