Microsoft's alternative to Dropbox, OneDrive is great for Office 365 users, but only middlin' for anyone else.
By Eric Bradley – Last Updated: 08 Oct'17
OneDrive is Microsoft’s foray into the cloud storage market and offers great integration with Microsoft Office and other collaboration features, while falling a little short in many other respects. In this review, we’ll take an in-depth look at what you can expect from OneDrive and if it’s the best cloud storage provider for you.
As with many Microsoft tools, OneDrive is a robust worker that performs its task adequately without being especially amazing. In other words, it’s as business-like as the market Microsoft prefers to cater to.
You will find all the usual cloud storage features such as file sharing, synchronization and image libraries. Most of these features work well, but they can sometimes be tricky to access and may have some limitations. As OneDrive comes prepackaged with Windows 8.1 and later, you can try it out for yourself quite easily; if you’re less hands-on, keep reading.
As with all Microsoft products, a lot of effort has been put into building the front end. It’s on the back end where problems are likely to manifest. This appears to happen frequently enough that many users are frustrated and some just find it all too confusing.
- Low-cost pricing
- Bundled with Office 365
- Great for collaboration
- Block-level sync
- Two-factor authentication
- No at-rest encryption
- Manual uploads can stall
- Only NTFS supported
- File-naming restrictions
Microsoft being the owner is both a strength and a weakness: this is because it depends on your position. If you’re a business user, it helps to have absolute certainty that your service provider is going to stick around. With Microsoft that is beyond question.
If you work with sensitive information that really must be kept secret, Microsoft’s relationship with the NSA and may be unacceptable. A bigger concern is that consumer files aren’t encrypted in the cloud.
Really the decision is yours, although if you’re using Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 you’ll have to uninstall OneDrive manually.
For the desktop and mobile platforms, Microsoft offers the feature-rich experience you would expect, and for the most part these features work well. The only problem is that some of them are too limiting.
Obviously the key selling point is the simplicity of team collaboration with Microsoft Office documents, including online editing and the ability to present PowerPoint slideshows directly from the cloud.
OneDrive has a video media player that supports common file formats, although open source formats such as OGV are not supported. Digital Rights Management (DRM) is strictly enforced for media playback.
There is also an image viewer that lets you create slide shows.
Even with the free online storage account, you have access to Office Online, which is similar to Office 365 but with fewer features. For the average user, the features in Office Online will be enough to meet their needs.
This overcomes a common problem for people who prefer not to install Microsoft software on their machines, but still need to view a document exactly as its author created it. Microsoft’s core fonts all display too, even if you don’t have them installed locally.
All of the above makes up the bright side of OneDrive, and there is a lot to like. Still, there are a few things you may not like so much.
Microsoft limits any individual file transfer to 10GB. There are also limits on certain types of media files, as in the total number of each type you’re permitted to store. For example, there is a limit of 50,000 music files (possibly an anti-piracy measure).
There is a difference between personal and business accounts too. Business users get a content versioning system with file check-in and check-out, such as you will find with CVS systems designed for use by programmers. This is not included in the personal subscriptions, which just have basic versioning ability.
The features in the phone apps are equal to those in the web client, which is good because some competitors offer scaled down mobile experiences. You will still be able to view images, create slideshows, watch videos and edit Office documents on your phone. One interesting difference was that the phone app could play an audio file that the web client could not.
Anybody can sign up for a 5GB OneDrive Basic account for free. It might be worth it just to gain access to the web-based version of Microsoft Office, Office Online. For those that need more than 5GB of storage, there are a few different consumer options for subscriptions.
|Plan||Free||50GB||1TB||5TB||OneDrive Business||OneDrive Business Advanced||OneDrive Business All-In-One|
$ 1 99monthly
$ 23 88yearly
$ 6 99monthly
$ 69 99yearly
$ 9 99monthly
$ 99 99yearly
$ 60 00yearly
$ 120 00yearly
$ 15 00monthly
$ 150 00yearly
Comes with Office 365 Personal.
Comes with Office 365 Home.
Microsoft phone & email support .
Unlimited OneDrive storage.
Comes with full Office 365 suite.
The 50GB price point is a nice inclusion, and not one many other cloud storage services offer. However, if you’re only looking for a place to store files, MEGA will give you the same amount of storage for free, along with tighter security thanks to being a zero-knowledge provider.
Alternatively, for just $1 more than OneDrive’s 1TB plan, you could score a 2TB subscription from Sync.com (check out our Sync.com review for more details on pricing).
On the other hand, Microsoft $9.99 family plan is the same price as Dropbox’s 1TB personal plan, and nets you 1TB each for five different users. Also, that plan and Microsoft’s $6.99 1TB plan get you desktop versions of Office 365. Value is somewhat subjective, and for some users, OneDrive is going to be the best cloud storage deal available.
Getting started with OneDrive is easy. If you have Windows 8.1 or higher you don’t need to install it because it’s included in the operating system (in fact, getting rid of it if you don’t want it is a more difficult task). You can find detailed instructions on how to download and install the software in our guide to using OneDrive.
You can also use OneDrive entirely through the browser interface. OneDrive can be used with Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, Xbox and Linux (though this last one not officially).
Users of any non-Microsoft operating systems need to be aware that you must follow Microsoft file naming conventions.
OneDrive only recognizes NTFS drives on Windows computers, so any drives formatted with anything else (including Microsoft’s own FAT, FAT32, exFAT and ReFS formats) are not OneDrive compatible. This does not affect users of Mac, Linux, iPhone or Android, who can continue using the native file system of their devices.
If you are an Outlook, Xbox Live or Skype user, then you already have a Microsoft account, otherwise you will need to create one in order to use OneDrive.
After signing up, you’ll be taken into the web interface and a tutorial screen will be shown. This is the easiest way to use OneDrive if you only want to use it on a single device and use it for backup rather than sync.
There is a menu on the left that changes depending on what you are doing. At the top level of the drive it is used to navigate between different sections of your file collection (for example recent files, shared files and the recycle bin).
Under the OneDrive logo in the top left corner there is a search box that lets you find items in your file collection if you can’t remember where they’re located. This is a good feature, but placing the search box in the opposite corner to where it is normally found on most websites is not the best design choice we’ve seen.
Uploading files is done by clicking the “upload” button on the same row as the search box. Performing an upload through the web interface was a frustrating experience, exposing many flaws in the service that are not commonly encountered with most competitors.
If your manual upload fails for any reason, you can’t simply resume where you left off. You will have to delete the failed upload and start over, or you’ll need to be aware of which items in a folder were not uploaded and manually select them.
Cancellation of an upload is slow and stubborn, making the browser appear to stall, even though it actually hasn’t.
One of the strangest things was occasional file upload failures with the message “sorry, you don’t have permission to add files to this folder.” In a single user, non-shared environment, this didn’t appear to make any sense.
OneDrive displays information and activates some features (such as Skype chat) in sidebars which get stacked from right to left. An annoying thing about these sidebars is that if you close one, they will all vanish, which again is not standard browser behavior.
The OneDrive web interface also uses small fonts, doesn’t have well-defined buttons, and doesn’t have good contrast. Accessibility is therefore less than optimal for vision-impaired users.
Using the desktop client for file sync didn’t have anywhere near as many problems as performing a manual file transfer with the browser client.
The phone app has a similar appearance to the web client, except that the left menu is displayed as an overlay which hides when you select an item from it. Sidebars also display as overlays.
It was surprising to see how much difference there was between manually transferring files and using the sync client. Where the manual upload was prone to frequent glitches and stalls, the sync client was smooth, worked faultlessly and showed acceptable speed.
OneDrive also incorporates block-level file copying for Microsoft Office file types. This method of file copying greatly increases sync speeds when reflecting file changes across devices because it only copies the parts of the file that have changed rather than the entire file.
While it would be nice if OneDrive used this method of transfer for all file types, very few cloud storage services use it at all (Dropbox and Amazon Drive are two big exceptions), so having it even for Office files is a nice benefit for speeding up collaboration.
Sharing files can be done in various ways. You can generate a link to the file, you can embed your file into a web page, you can share it on various popular social media platforms and you can email a link to it directly from the OneDrive site. Subscribers with paid accounts can set expiry dates for their shared links. What’s missing is password protection.
The speed rating for OneDrive applies only to uploading using sync, because manual file transfers of our 1GB test folder suffered frequent glitches that were not evident when using sync.
Here are our test results:
|@ 5Mb/s (625KB/s)|
w/ DTAC, Thailand
|First Attempt:||Second Attempt:||Average:|
At 10Mbps, a 15 minute transfer is about right for 1GB of data. Therefore, less than 30 minutes for the 5Mbps connection speed we used for testing is right on the money. This is especially impressive given that these tests were performed from Thailand.
As you would expect from a multinational corporation with global reach, Microsoft has more than enough servers spread over the globe to give decent speeds from just about anywhere.
Microsoft has very little public documentation available regarding its cloud security setup, and likely with good reason: At present, it only encrypts data stored in the cloud for business users. If you’re using an OneDrive individual or home plan, your files are left in plain text.
We had to contact the company directly to find confirm was the case after we became suspicious due to the lack of documentation. We did get a quick and clear response, however:
The lack of encryption could be an issue given that Microsoft has long been an enticing target for hackers. If you decide to use OneDrive and want to ensure your files aren’t accessed by others, you may want to encrypt them prior to uploading using a service like Boxcryptor.
On top of this security hole, Microsoft is not exactly known for being a champion of individual privacy. Microsoft has seemed to show a willingness to cooperate readily with any kind of investigation and has previously been reported to have a close relationship with the NSA.
That said, more recently Microsoft has separated itself somewhat from the NSA over its role in leaking software vulnerabilities that were exploited by cybercriminals. Of course, that these vulnerabilities existed in the first place is precisely the sort of reason some users might be better off with a privacy-oriented, Canadian-based niche player like Sync.com.
If you are worried about how much Microsoft respects your privacy, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, even a former high level adviser to the company on the very subject of privacy gave Microsoft a vote of no confidence, as reported in The Guardian.
Microsoft does let you set up two-factor authentication, which will require an additional security code sent to your mobile device when logging in from an unfamiliar machine.
Microsoft maintains a help center section devoted entirely to OneDrive that lets you search for articles by keyword or category. Many of the articles are bit sparse and the search option doesn’t often return relevant results, however.
You can also access help articles directly from the OneDrive online interface by clicking the “?” button on the top-left side. There, you can search for articles and read up on the latest OneDrive features.
You’ll also find a link to email OneDrive support if you can’t find the answers to your questions in the help center.
We send OneDrive customer support a test email regarding encryption and received a response back within 24 hours that directly answered our question.
OneDrive also has a support community, although there’s only a community section for OneDrive for Business. User questions often go unanswered, so it’s of limited value.
There is no OneDrive support telephone number and online chat isn’t available.
OneDrive is an ambitious attempt by Microsoft to compete in the world of cloud storage, and many of the features are very impressive. Unfortunately there are flaws that make it a difficult choice, highlighted questionable security and flimsy approach to user privacy.
If you’re planning to use Office 365 extensively and that will be the main focus of your cloud storage use, then OneDrive is worth keeping in mind, particularly for business users (see our guide to the best cloud storage for business to compare the main competitors).
It’s clear that the intention is to encourage people to subscribe to the Office 365 service, because the quota for storage alone is so low. OneDrive could be suitable as a free or low cost secondary storage option if your storage needs are below 50GB.
Thanks for reading, and if you would like to share your experiences or thoughts about OneDrive, your comments will be very welcome.
|Free Storage||15 GB|
|Price||Starts from $ 1.99 per month|
|Free External HD Backup|
|Bare Metal Backup|
|Exclude File Extensions for Backup|
|File Size Limit||Unlimited GB|
|Share Photo Albums|
|Server Side Encryption||256-bit|
|Keeps deleted files||356|