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Microsoft to fix its buggy file sync system between PCs and online storage

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January 9, 2015

Earlier this morning, Microsoft has revealed new details of how it plans to repair the issues with its file synchronization scheme between personal computers and its online storage services.

To be sure, Windows client vice president Chris Jones notes that the operating system currently has 3 sync engines and just two online services-– OneDrive consumer and OneDrive for Business.

Each system based on different technology, however. The three client sync engines are: consumer OneDrive on Windows 7, 8 and Mac; OneDrive for Business on Windows; and OneDrive on Windows 8.1, which has a new placeholder feature that shows all the files that exist online in Windows Explorer.

However, it downloads them only on demand. The placeholder concept is ideal for devices like Ultrabooks or tablets, which have relatively small local storage on SSD drives.

Problems with the various sync engines are a common source of complaints among users. Another issue is the lack of a OneDrive for Business client for the Mac.

Microsoft promised a client by the end of last year, but it is in private preview until later this month.

The placeholder concept is nice, but Jones admits that it's “an area that needed improvement in reliability.” He refers to app compatibility problems, file operation failures, and users thinking files were available offline when they were not-- an annoying discovery on a long flight, for example.

Microsoft now intends to “converge to a single sync engine.” This will be based on the consumer sync engine, not the business version based on Office Groove.

That is good news, as the consumer version, while not always problem free, tends to be more reliable.

OneDrive clients for devices are also converging. A unified OneDrive app – in other words, one that covers both consumer and business – is already available for Android and Windows Phone, with iOS to follow in the next few weeks.

The feature about placeholders has been dropped in the latest Windows 10 preview, and will not make it back in time for the Windows 10 launch.

That said, Jones promises that “the core capabilities of placeholders” will be added in a later update, but without giving any idea of when.

Jones also notes that OneDrive sync has been gradually improving, though he admits they are silent incremental updates.

“We’ve made dramatic improvements in sync reliability and performance for Windows 7,” he says, and some evidence here and there bears that out.

Overall, making cloud storage work correctly is a make or break feature for Microsoft’s strategy to bring Office everywhere and sell its online services across all devices.

A converged engine makes sense, but questions still remain. But here's the question: why did Microsoft ever think that two different cloud storage services with nearly the same name, but different clients, was a sensible idea?

Also, why has it taken so long to come up with a Mac client for OneDrive for Business, a core feature of Office 365?

And finally, why were earlier releases of the sync client so poor that “dramatic improvements” were necessary?

Blunders like these have driven some users to alternatives like Dropbox or Google Drive. Nevertheless, it sounds like good news for Office 365 users who will bid a final farewell to the problematic groove.exe (the OneDrive for Business client).

Source: Microsoft.

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