Sunday, 27 September 2015

OneDrive. Take Windows 10 into the cloud

OneDrive. Take Windows 10 into the cloud

Use Microsoft’s cloud storage system to access your files wherever you are

Microsoft’s online storage offering, OneDrive, has joined the likes of Dropbox, Google Drive and BT Cloud in the scramble to get your files backed up in the cloud (that nebulous term for banks of storage racks humming away in a data centre... somewhere). OneDrive has been through a couple of different incarnations since its launch in 2007. You might remember it as SkyDrive, which was its codename before it became available for beta-testing as Windows Live Folders. It became Windows Live SkyDrive very shortly after launch. The ‘Windows Live‘ part of the name was quietly dropped, and SkyDrive rumbled on through the launches of Windows 7 and 8 until 2013, when a case in the High Court in London determined that the name infringed BSkyB’s ‘Sky’ trademark. From these Murdoch-stoked ashes rose OneDrive, and that moniker is the one you’ll find today in Windows 10.

Cloud storage is important for anyone who wants an off-site backup of important information they can’t afford to lose. This might be your accounts, irreplaceable photographs or home movies. OneDrive protects you against data loss by saving multiple copies across its servers, so if one fails there’s always another to take its place. Your data is hidden behind a password and two-step authorisation system (if you enable it) so only you can access it, and thanks to mobile apps, everything stored there can be at your fingertips wherever you are, on any device. You can think of OneDrive as an extra 15GB of storage for your smartphone; the files from your PC can be delivered over its data connection with a few taps.

If you’re a Windows 10 user, you’ll find OneDrive is built in, and because you use a Microsoft account to log into your computer it will use OneDrive to sync your files and settings across multiple PCs. If you’re using a version of Windows older than 8.1, there’s a desktop app that offers file syncing.

OneDrive in Windows 10

Microsoft has made the cloud an integral part of its latest OS

For Windows 10 users, OneDrive is transparent as long as you’re signed in with a Microsoft Account. Running automatically in the background, backing up your documents and settings, you may never even know it’s there. Bring up the Start menu, and start typing ‘OneD…’ by the time you’ve got that far through its name, Windows will have found its sole option – opening the OneDrive folder. OneDrive options are spread around Windows 10 rather than existing as a dedicated app, but pay a visit to the System Tray, and you’ll find a OneDrive icon there that allows access to settings and help if you right-click it.

Click on ‘OneDrive Storage Space’, and you’ll open a web page dedicated to your OneDrive. First up is your free space. You get 15GB by default, although there are ways to expand this. That’s quite a lot of storage though, as you’re only going to use it for documents and data rather than for installing programs or operating systems.

There aren’t many options on the web page other than the prominent ‘Buy more storage’ button. Saving documents to OneDrive is enabled by default in recent version of Office, but you may still want to move your Documents and Pictures folders inside the OneDrive folder so that OneDrive in Windows 10 all your documents go into the cloud as well as being stored locally on your hard drive. If you’ve got more than one Windows PC, logging into them all with the same account means your documents will be automatically synced between the computers, so you’ll never need to run upstairs to switch on the desktop computer to find a spreadsheet when you could be sitting in the garden with your laptop instead.

PC settings can also be synced between computers, including things like desktop icons and wallpaper, making it feel like all your computers are one computer and removing the need to make the same change to all your systems.

Click ‘Accounts’ in Windows’ Settings app to find the sync settings. If you want your PCs to feel familiar, with no differences in wallpaper, Start screens or even elements such as browser and mouse acceleration settings, then turn all these options to ‘On’. This also means you can save all your PC settings to OneDrive without having them synced across multiple computers. You can restore the settings to your PC if you ever need to replace its hard drive, or reinstall the operating system for another reason, making your ‘new’ computer just like your old one.

You can also automatically upload your pictures from your PC hard drive to OneDrive, and 15GB can hold a lot of photos. Make sure syncing of the Pictures folder is turned on in OneDrive settings, then you can forget about it. Every time you save a new photograph to your PC, it will appear online a little later, depending on the speed of your internet connection. Once it’s there, it will also be available to any other PCs or devices you’re logged into with the same Microsoft account.

Photo uploading also works the other way – images taken on your phone can be synced to your desktop PC without having to connect the two with a cable. This is where the final option in Settings comes into play: Metered Connections.

If you’re using Windows 10 on a tablet or laptop with a SIM card slot, you might not want uploaded photos running up your phone bill. Metered Connections gives you options for controlling this, allowing your device to synchronise settings, for example, while turning off photo or movie uploading while you’re using mobile data.

Office Online

It’s Microsoft Office, in your web browser

Since 2010, Microsoft has offered a cut-down version of its Office suite that runs in your web browser and saves its files to OneDrive. Office Online is completely free to use, and for general word processing and light spreadsheet use, it’s the only office suite you’ll need (as long as you’re connected to the internet).

To use Office Online, head to and click the tile for the application you want to use. You might have to sign in with your Microsoft account if you haven’t already done so. You’ll be offered the choice between templates or a blank document, just as you would in the desktop version of Office, and the apps behave very much like their full-fat cousins – the ones Microsoft would like you to pay for.

Office Online documents are saved in the Documents part of your OneDrive folder as ordinary files (.docx, .xslx, etc), as their desktop equivalents would. This means you can write up a proposal and send it by email as a simple attachment to be opened on the recipient’s PC. And while it’s not made very clear, you can rename a file by clicking its name on the browser app’s blue header bar, so you don’t end up with lots of files just called ‘Document’.

There’s something else OneDrive can do that’s a little more clever. You can use it to embed documents into websites, making it easy to display information that can be edited in Office Online rather than tinkering with HTML.

From your Office Online document, select ‘File’ (that’s Office Online’s File menu, not your web browser’s) then ‘Share’. Hit the blue ‘Generate’ button, and you’ll be prompted to select a width for your document in pixels. When you’re happy, copy the code from the bottom of the window, and paste it into a page of your website.

IFTTT and OneDrive

Automate your cloud backups

Of This Then That ( is an extremely handy online service that can automate the interactions between other online services. This sounds like madness, but a simpler way of thinking about it is that, if you want, all the pictures you’re tagged in on Facebook can be saved directly to OneDrive.

The service keeps running until you tell it to stop, so any pictures you’re tagged in from then on will be saved to OneDrive too, and from there appear on your hard drive.

IFTTT uses ‘recipes’ to do its work, and at the time of writing there were 643 available that make use of OneDrive, from saving all your Instagram photos to it, to Gmail attachments (useful for immediately opening Office documents in Office Online), to Bing’s image of the day. You can even save tracks from Soundcloud direct to OneDrive, if they’re available for download.If you’re looking for a really secure off-site backup plan, you could use IFTTT to synchronise the contents of your OneDrive with another cloud storage system, such as Dropbox, mirroring your files between the two and knowing nothing will be lost.

OneDrive for business

Those about to work, we salute you

OneDrive for Business can be seen as a company’s fileserver, but online and accessible from anywhere. This enterprise version of OneDrive is fundamentally different to the consumer edition we’ve discussed in the rest of this feature, though. Although they’re both available under the same OneDrive banner, OneDrive for Business runs on Microsoft’s older Sharepoint application framework, first launched in 2001.

This means that if you use OneDrive for Business, you won’t be able to use the same username and password to log into a standard OneDrive account. The two services have different development histories and different ways of working.

In general use, OneDrive for Business looks and acts just like the consumer version, with integration into Office Online and the desktop Office apps available as part of Office 365. Teams can collaborate on documents, with OneDrive for Business keeping files up to date across computers that aren’t necessarily all in the same building or connected to the same network, as long as they’re online. There’s protection against data loss built in, too. 

If you can’t connect to the internet, OneDrive for business will sync your documents as soon as you reestablish a net connection.

OneDrive for Business is a powerful aspect of the service, which comes with a monthly fee for every user, but offers 1TB of storage for each one.

Apps that work with OneDrive

Gigabytes of storage are no good unless you put them to use

OneDrive’s integration with other apps is one of its most powerful features. These apps come in two guises: those that use OneDrive as a storage area, allowing your data to appear on every device running the same program, and those that add OneDrive functionality to devices that otherwise wouldn’t have it. To get OneDrive on your Android phones and tablets there’s an app on Google Play, and Blackberry users will find one on Blackberry World. Windows Phone users can get it from Apps+Games if it’s not installed already, and Xbox One gamers can install OneDrive on their consoles. There’s even a plugin for the Chrome web browser you can install from the Web Store, but it seems to do little other than launch the OneDrive website.

The website is a useful way of accessing files if you can’t install an app on the PC you’re using, as you can still upload and download the files you need manually. In this way, OneDrive becomes like a remote USB flash drive, allowing you to copy files and take them to another computer – as long as you’re connected to the internet. The mobile apps work in a similar way. Because of the limited storage on mobile devices – 16GB isn’t an uncommon capacity, and many don’t have a microSD card slot to add more storage – syncing all your OneDrive files to them is impractical and could push up your phone bill if it’s using your mobile data connection.

Mobile OneDrive apps display the contents of your OneDrive folders without immediately downloading their contents. You can browse files, choose the ones you need, then save them to your phone, but any changes you make to them will not be saved and synced to your other computers unless you re-upload the file to OneDrive.

OneDrive offers automatic camera roll uploading for mobiles, something it has in common with other cloud services such as Dropbox. This means if you take a snap with your phone it will upload to the cloud, and appear on your PC the next time you switch it on, without you having to connect the devices and copy the file over manually.

OneDrive has some tough terms and conditions of any cloud service. Content placed in OneDrive is monitored, and anything that contravenes the service’s code of conduct is subject to removal, and the account that placed it there can face being closed down. Photos on OneDrive are scanned with Microsoft’s PhotoDNA tool, also used by Google and Facebook, and subject matter that contravenes the code of conduct includes nudity, and anything related to the purchasing of guns.

The other type of app is aware of OneDrive, and syncs its data through it across devices without you needing to set it manually. There’s a small but growing number of apps that support this functionality, including OneNote, 3D image visualisation app Cooliris and Genius Scan +, which uses your phone to scan documents and upload them to the cloud.

These apps often come with a desktop counterpart, so OneDrive integration makes sense as you can view your work on a larger screen, and go on to share or print – perhaps including it into a PowerPoint presentation that will, in turn, be saved back into OneDrive and shared with multiple recipients.

Media streaming

Listen to the music stored in your OneDrive account wherever you are

While Microsoft, at the time of writing, has yet to announce a music streaming service that includes OneDrive, the functionality is there within its mobile apps.

If you upload your legally acquired MP3s to a folder on OneDrive, taking careful note of the recent changes to the UK’s copyright laws, which came into effect in September, and then access the folder from one of OneDrive’s mobile apps, you’ll find you can play the files from within the app on iOS, and using the built-in Sound Player app on Android.

Of course, Microsoft has a full streaming music service called Groove Music that you should probably use instead, since it’s free for the basic version.

You can also use the OneDrive website to play video files directly from your storage, as long as they’re in the MP4, QuickTime movie (.mov) or Apple video (.m4v) format.

Move your OneDrive folder

Make Microsoft’s cloud storage function around your needs

The default location of your OneDrive folder is in C:/user/name/, but Windows 10 removes the ability to move it to a more convenient location.

In Windows 8.1 you could move the folder by right-clicking the OneDrive folder and selecting ‘Properties’. From there click ‘Location > Move’. Point the following
window to the new location you want, and click ‘OK’. The folder is then moved, without having to redownload the files.

A workaround from the days of Windows 7 and 8 works in 10 though: right click the OneDrive icon in the notification area, select ‘Settings’ and click on ‘Unlink OneDrive’. You’ll go through the same setup procedure you did when you first started using OneDrive, and will have to wait until your files download from the internet into their new location before it’s finished.