Windows 10 Update Brings back OneDrive remote access, but loses file placeholders

office 365 onedrive

I’ve been using Windows 10 Beta on my main personal laptop since launch and it’s been excellent. The tight OneDrive integration is something I’ve been keeping an eye on closely, as its central to the way I work. The recent increase in storage limits for Office365 subscribers, initially to 1TB and then to completely unlimited has drawn in many new users.

In the latest build of Windows 10 (9879) Microsoft has made a couple of changes to the way OneDrive works.

Placeholder files are gone

Firstly, your set of OneDrive folders can contain huge amounts of data, potentially way more than you have locally available. Laptops typically come with 500GB or 750GB hard drives, and Windows tablets a lot less – so you need to sync a subset of data, not all of it.

OneDrive allows you to select which folders are available are sync’d locally, and which are just left online. Note I said folders, not files, and here is the change. OneDrive used to create placeholder files for everything you had online. These placeholder files allowed you to search locally and find a file that is online. Try and open the file and OneDrive will download it first and then open it.

This has just changed however, placeholders files are gone now. Microsoft, on its UserVoice site have explained their reasoning.

We hear the feedback on placeholders, and we agree that there many great things about the model – for example, being able to see all your files in the cloud even if they are not all sync’ed to your PC. However, we were not happy with how we built placeholders, and we got clear feedback that some customers were confused (for example, with files not being available when offline), and that some applications didn’t work well with placeholders and that sync reliability was not where we needed it to be.

So, we stepped back to take a fresh look at OneDrive in Windows. The changes we made are significant. We didn’t just “turn off” placeholders – we’re making fundamental improvements to how Sync works, focusing on reliability in all scenarios, bringing together OneDrive and OneDrive for Business in one sync engine, and making sure we have a model that can scale to unlimited storage. In Windows 10, that means we’ll use selective sync instead of placeholders.

The full list of files wills till be indexed, and will appear in search results. It goes without saying, this Windows 10 build is a Beta and subject to change, and Microsoft confirmed they are still working on improving OneDrive. This change is aimed at improving reliability and stability for the OneDrive sync experience, and also because on budget Windows devices, some with available storage as low as 8-10GB the placeholder files themselves can take up precious space.

All of these factors aren’t enough of a reason for me though, the placeholder files are an excellent reminder of the contents of a folder, but more importantly they allow the sharing of individual files directly from within the OS, without having to go into a browser and do it from the OneDrive web interface. What Microsoft should of done is simply made it clearer by way of an icon or colouring which files were locally sync’d and which were simply placeholders.

Remote access

An early version of OneDrive, when it was a separate standalone install, allowed remote access from the web interface to the file system of a computer running OneDrive signed in with the same account.

This feature was deprecated when OneDrive was tied into the OS in Windows 8, and the first beta of Windows 10, however in the latest build it’s now back.

windows 10 build 9879 onedrive remote access

Now from OneDrive on the web, you can select from a list of all your PC’s that you’re signed into, and after a one-time additional security step, access any of the files anywhere on file system. Perfect if you’ve accidentally saved a file outside the OneDrive folder. I actually used this a couple of times in an emergency previously, so its good to see this return.

This post was written by Rob Gordon, an IT geek, gadget lover and blogger. Rob has been using the internets since 1994 when the only streaming video was that coffee pot in Cambridge (rip).... Follow Rob on Twitter - @robgordon - about.me/robgordonuk