If you’re using Microsoft OneDrive and thinking about moving to Dropbox so you can sync shared folders or sync selected files across your platforms, then you might want to hang on for a while. Microsoft announced in its roadmap for OneDrive that all users will have this functionality by the end of the year.

It has also promised both OneDrive, its consumer file sharing application, and OneDrive for Business will work off a single sync engine in an attempt to dispel the confusion over two products with the same name but different back ends and audiences.

OneDrive, OneDrive For Business

OneDrive for Business, you may recall, is a core element of Office 365 enterprise editions and SharePoint Server 2013. It lets business users store and share files or collaborate on documents in real time. OneDrive is a separate personal storage space outside of the workplace.

While the limited syncing ability is frustrating non-business users, for business users it has become a real pain in the ass as the enterprise editions have 1TB of storage and have to sync files individually — think how many files there are in 1TB — and go through all their folders to find them (unlimited storage is also on the way later this year).

The news appears in a post on the OneDrive blog by Chris Jones, corporate vice president, OneDrive and SharePoint. According to Jones, the move comes as Microsoft moves closer to unifying its businesses and products, creating a portfolio of offerings that will cover enterprise work from start to finish.

Over the past year we’ve seen a massive increase in OneDrive use for people who use Windows and Office both at home and work. We want to take this opportunity to share how we are thinking about delivering a great sync experience and some of the things that are coming in the next few months. We are focused on making OneDrive a great tool for you to store content, share it, and collaborate with your friends, family and co-workers," Jones wrote.

In practical terms this means ensuring that all Microsoft users can sync and collaborate on files between the cloud and across all devices and platforms.

Furthermore, Microsoft has said it will be adding “placeholder files” that will enable users look through the file libraries from within File Explorer. This has become a really sore point with many users as in the recently released Windows 10 Technical preview this feature didn’t appear in File Explorer, and currently only offers this functionality in Windows 8.1.

2015_01_8 OneDrive for Business.jpg

3 Into One

It also replaces the current lineup of three different syncing capabilities offered by Microsoft depending on what platform the user is using. Currently, there is one for Windows 7, 8 or Mac for consumer services, another for OneDrive for Business and another one for Windows 8.1, which is currently the only platform offering the placeholders files offering.

If you work in the Microsoft ecosystem, it’s likely that you are going to be using at least two of these different platforms, making what should be a simple and common task extremely complicated.
By the end of the year, the roadmap will effectively unite all three and, according to Jones, provide a safe placeholder that actually works.

Customer feedback indicated that user actions against placeholders was an area that needed improvement in reliability. In Windows 8.1 certain apps would occasionally fail to open files that were placeholders because the app didn’t know how to issue commands to download the file, or the download would timeout due to bandwidth speed. We noticed that certain file operations (including copy, move, and delete) had a higher degree of failure when placeholders were utilized. In parallel, we learned that many customers found the feature was confusing,” Jones wrote.

The combination of an unstable product with one that confused people is not a good one, nor is forcing people to use a number of different platforms, especially where there are other vendors in the space that are more than able to offer more efficient file sharing and collaboration services.

File Sharing Future?

It is also clear that as 2015 unfolds that file sharing and collaboration as functions that are separate to enterprise content management will disappear and eventually become part and parcel of the ECM portfolio, where it hasn’t already done so.

With the spread of Office 365 across the enterprise and into the homes of many consumers, Microsoft had to get this right,  especially as people are using different elements of Office 365, particularly SharePoint Online to manage a good deal of their content, even if it is not, as such, an ECM.

For those that are already using the Windows 10 Technical Preview without the placeholder function, Jones asks for their indulgence as they work on getting this right.

We do recognize that some of our best customers are using the Windows 10 Technical Preview and this is where we’re actively doing the work to converge to one sync engine and as a result, no longer have the separate engine for placeholders. There are important capabilities that we need to bring to Windows 10 – some will make it into the first release – including shared folders and support for the consumer and business service."

Microsoft hasn’t given exact dates for when all this is going to happen, but has promised it will be by the end of the year. If it doesn’t meet this target, it risks getting a seriously bloody nose, given the importance of this for business users.