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Microsoft rolls out Files On-Demand with tighter macOS integration – but it defaults to 'on' and can't be disabled
Get ready for a new 'experience'...
Heads up, OneDrive-using Mac fans: Microsoft has begun rolling out a new Files On-Demand "experience", and you can't disable it.
Microsoft's cloudy storage platform, OneDrive, is a handy solution for mixed fleets. Using Windows and Mac hardware? No problem; a local-file-like experience is on hand for either environment (Linux users, sadly, need not apply for the time being). One facet of the OneDrive experience is Files On-Demand, where the content of files is not downloaded until needed (for example, opening up a Word document).
It saves disk space and means OneDrive only downloads what it needs (when connected to the internet) unless a user has manually specified that a file or folder be always available. Dropbox's Smart Sync does something similar.
Files On-Demand for macOS turned up in 2018 and felt very much something that seemed to run atop the operating system. "The first version of Files On-Demand is built on several pieces of technology that are now deprecated," explained Microsoft. The new version, which is rolling out to users running macOS 12.1 or later, is a good deal more integrated and is based on Apple's File Provider platform. Microsoft stated that its new way of doing things would also receive long-term support from Apple.
Handy, because if you're a OneDrive user and you update macOS (and goodness, it's hard to avoid Apple's nagging to do so) then you're going to get the new Files On-Demand. It will default to on for all users and cannot be disabled. macOS 12.2 will be the last version that supports the "classic" experience.
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Other changes that might cause a raised eyebrow is a potential sync root location change. Users could historically pick any location, but now it must be in the home directory. "This location cannot be moved or changed and is controlled by macOS," explained Microsoft. HFS+ formatted volumes are also not supported – it's APFS for Files On-Demand from macOS 12.2 onwards (and OneDrive won't launch without it).
That said, there are also plenty of positives. APFS features such as File Tags and Extended Attributes are now supported, as is the syncing of packages. Symlinks are also supported – kind of. The OneDrive cloud doesn't actually support symlinks, so instead the symlink will sync to the cloud as a text file with the target as its contents. An improvement over the previous incarnation that simply ignored the things.
Also improved is support for Known Folder Move (KFM), which permits macOS users to redirect their Desktop, Documents and Pictures folders to OneDrive and keep the content synced.
Now, about that official Linux version... ®