Microsoft really, really get the cloud. Windows 10 is a “Cloud first” operating system and as it matures and the interactions with Office 365 become ever smoother we are going to see great things.

Dropbox has lead the way in cloud storage and it is almost perfect. Microsoft is playing catchup and has the disadvantage of legacy sync systems. There are now four different Microsoft sync systems, “OneDrive for Business” (actually Sharepoint), Windows 7 OneDrive, Windows 8.1 OneDrive and Windows 10 OneDrive. Microsoft’s goal is to create a single sync engine over the next few months.

OneDrive is baked into Windows 10 and has fewer features than OneDrive in Windows 8.1. In particular you are required to select which of your on-line folders you want to sync with your device. Unlike in Windows 8.1 you cannot use Windows Explorer to browse your local OneDrive and pull down remote files on demand.

Selecting folders makes good sense; web first devices like Microsoft Surface and HP Stream have little local storage and Microsoft explains that since you can potentially store many Terrabytes on-line it is not practical to always sync all data to a device.

This makes good sense but the decision to remove place-holders is not easily explained. To me, a long-time computer user it made me panic. “Where is my data!?!”. A consequence of this is that you cannot even open a remote file in Word because you cannot browse to it. Desktop Word still uses the desktop paradigm and does not let you browse your remote OneDrive.

It seems Microsoft are saying “locally synced files – just for people on trains, use OneDrive on the web”.

To go with the flow you must regard OneDrive in your web browser as your primary file browser.

You can then open files either in Word on-line or desktop Word if you have paid for it.

For ordinary users this is probably a big step forward. Their data is backed up and available everywhere. Most of them could never use Windows Explorer anyway and OneDrive give Microsoft a chance to create a file manager that does what people want. For example, it seems to automatically create shareable photo-albums.

I remember back in the 80’s we said “Work-flows should be data centric – go to the data and then select the application”. Of course we did not, we opened Microsoft Word and then selected the file to open. Microsoft’s decision to change the work-flow is potentially a good one. We see this elsewhere in Windows 10 where right-clicking on file prompts “Open with…” and you can choose the most appropriate application for the task at hand.

What next?

I will try out the new “OneDrive on the web first ” work-flow for a few weeks. Then I will probably give in to temptation and map OneDrive as a network drive (OneDrive supports WebDav access and can be mapped using NET USE, I will post the script when I do it).

I am sure that Microsoft will also hear the howls of rage from older power users like me who control budgets and add better remote browsing but in couple of years time Windows explorer will go the way of EMACS (Editor for Middle Aged Computer Scientists) and everyone will be using OneDrive on the web with is great search, automatic tagging and plug-ins for every possible need.