The sins of OneDrive as Microsoft's cloud storage service turns 15

SkyDrive? Placeholders? Outages? Yes, it's all gone swimmingly

Opinion Microsoft is celebrating 15 years of its cloud storage service, OneDrive, with a refreshed OneDrive Home but, strangely, no mention of SkyDrive, the placeholder fiasco or the multiple issues suffered by the service over the years. Lucky we're here, eh?

OneDrive emerged in 2007 after paying its dues in beta form for US users. Initially called Windows Live Folders and then Windows Live SkyDrive, it allowed users to stash files on Microsoft's servers. Desktop apps for Windows Vista, 7 and 8 arrived, allowing for synchronization of files.

Microsoft has since forced the service deeper into Windows, recently attracting attention from regulators concerned that users might be being forced into using the service.

For Microsoft, things appear to have gone swimmingly. The company reported a 240 percent increase in monthly active users over the last five years and it is hard to avoid the service if you are a Microsoft 365 user. The latest update planned is a redesigned OneDrive Home experience, which will surface a user's most relevant files as well most recent and show activity updates.

However, it hasn't all been roses in the OneDrive garden. Sometimes things have gone terribly wrong, and some things continue to do so.

That Name

The name "OneDrive" is yet another reminder that Microsoft can be stared down by lawyers. In 2011 the British Sky Broadcasting Group (the European satellite broadcasting arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire) claimed that the SkyDrive brand violated BSkyB's trademark for internet storage services. It took a while, but by 2014 Microsoft acquiesced and the OneDrive branding was born.

Placeholders begone

A user favorite, placeholders allowed for fine-grained control over what was – and wasn't – downloaded to a PC. A catalog of files would show up, but not all were downloaded. An indicator showed if a file was downloaded or not. The feature was removed in Windows 10, meaning only those files selected for download would show up. Files On Demand eventually arrived to restore the much missed functionality, but the experience was a reminder of how certain elements within Microsoft can appear deaf to user pleas.

OneDrive, more like NoneDrive when it comes to capacity

After a brief flirtation with unlimited storage (something that Microsoft eventually pulled, citing naughtiness on the part of a minority of users) OneDrive has remained very much the poor relation when it comes to storage, with little changing since the days of SkyDrive.

Users start with 5GB for free. $19.99 per year gets you 100GB, which can be upped to 1TB if one signs up for a Microsoft 365 Personal subscription for $69.99 per year.

In 2012, Microsoft upped the free storage to 7GB but reckoned hardly anyone would need that much. We agreed, saying: "Dare we say that 7GB should be enough for anyone?" but that was 10 years ago, and getting to 2TB now requires spending some serious cash; considerably more than its rivals (Apple's iCloud, for example, asks for just $9.99/month, or £6.99 in the UK, for 2TB.)

What happens when the cloud disappears?

OneDrive, being part of Microsoft's cloud services, is not immune to the various outages that have struck Azure and its tentacles over the years. Networking issues have left users bereft of their files and occasionally users have had to install fixes or fiddle with Registry settings when Microsoft put out a release that left OneDrive severely broken.

Bundling

And then there is the bundling. As OneDrive's tendrils thread ever deeper into the Windows operating system, there is a suspicion among Microsoft's rivals that the bundling of its own online services with Windows is somewhat of a trojan horse for getting customers to sign up. There is more than a faint whiff of the browser wars of 1990 about the approach and, frankly, OneDrive (and the associated Microsoft 365) is getting rather hard to avoid.

So what does the next 15 years hold? Clearly, OneDrive represents a useful way to both acquire and hold on to customers (and it is undeniably convenient to use in current versions of Windows.) The hiccups of the past are receding and, other than the occasional tumble, the service is pretty stable.

Microsoft does, however, need to address the storage limitations of OneDrive and keep a very close eye on both regulators and the increasing concern on the part of users with regard to where and how their data is being stored. ®

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