What Is OneDrive? A 2021 Guide to Microsoft’s Cloud Storage

Robin Barber
By Robin Barber (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-01-06T15:04:58+00:00

Keeping your files in the cloud allows you to share them with friends or coworkers while still protecting them from outsiders. However, new users may find that many online storage solutions are complicated to use. In this article, we’ll go through the process of setting up and using OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage solution.

Between the OneDrive app for mobile devices, the Office integration and its decent security measures, it’s not surprising that this is the first choice of online storage for many users. It even gets the top spot in our Dropbox vs Google Drive vs OneDrive comparison because of these features. Read our full OneDrive review to find out more.

What Is Microsoft OneDrive?

As we mentioned, OneDrive is a form of online storage. This means you can use it to hold onto extra files outside of your hard drive, keep multiple systems synced or even make it act as an online backup.  

Although it isn’t the best service for security, its other features help OneDrive stay near the top of our rankings. It also comes with flawless integration with Microsoft’s other products, Office 365 and Windows 10, which few other providers are capable of.

How Does Microsoft OneDrive Work?

Generally, cloud storage works by saving your files to a server, which is a remote computer with a high storage capacity. You can save your data to these servers by moving files to OneDrive’s dedicated syncing folder.

Setting Up OneDrive

For Windows 10 users, OneDrive will already be on your computer, and you can find it inside the file explorer (we have a guide on how to remove OneDrive from file explorer in case you don’t want it). If it isn’t on your device, you can download it directly from Microsoft’s website and follow the installation wizard.

OneDrive-Download-Page

To use OneDrive, you will also have to log in to a Microsoft account. If you need to do this, you can search the settings window for the “your account” section.

Windows-Your-Account

Once you have it installed and connected to your account, you can begin saving your files through the Windows file explorer. First, search for the OneDrive folder, which should be a tab on the left.

OneDrive-Folder-Shown

To add more files, simply drag and drop them into this folder from within the file explorer. However, you should be aware that moving files may break other programs, so make a copy of the file if you’re unsure.

OneDrive-Open-Folder

When your files are safe in your OneDrive storage, there will be a symbol next to each file name. This should be either a green tick mark — which means that it is currently synced — or a cloud — which means it’s online only. If the icon is two blue arrows, then the file is syncing, so it will fix itself. However, a red cross means your data is out of sync and you need to fix it (we have a help guide for if OneDrive is not syncing).

OneDrive-File-Symbols

There are also five options available if you right-click within the folder. The first two — “share” and “view online” — are what you would expect, opening either the sharing options or the web page. The third, “manage OneDrive backup,” will give you access to more detailed controls. 

The last two options allow you to choose where to store your data. “Always keep on this device” will sync each file, saving it online and on the computer. Meanwhile, “free up space” tries to remove the files from your computer, making them online-access only.

OneDrive-All-File-Options

Finally, you should search through and familiarize yourself with the available settings. Click the OneDrive icon in the taskbar and select “settings” to open this window. Here, you will find everything from the encryption it uses to the option to remove the service from your computer.

OneDrive-More-Settings

How to Set Up OneDrive

  1. Install OneDrive, if it isn’t already
  2. Log in to a Microsoft account
  3. Search for and open the OneDrive folder within the file explorer
  4. Move the files that you want to save into this folder
  5. Ensure that all of your data is syncing 
  6. Go through and familiarize yourself with the available settings

Perks of Using OneDrive on Windows 10

The biggest perk of OneDrive for Windows 10 users is that you don’t need to install it. You simply need to sign into a Microsoft account, and it will allow you to store your files without extra hassle.

Being preinstalled means you can access your files from any Windows 10 device in the future. Alongside OneDrive’s support for macOS, iOS and Android devices, you won’t have to struggle to access your data.

Another benefit of this service is the ability to expand your OneDrive storage space when you need it. This has a 2TB cap, but it comes in 200GB increments, rather than the all-or-nothing style that other providers use.

Office 365 Integration and Free Storage

However, the main selling point is OneDrive’s automatic and frictionless integration with Office 365. By default, Microsoft Office will store everything to your OneDrive account, keeping your documents safe and easy to share. 

OneDrive-Office-Intergration

Alongside the Office integration is 5GB of free storage, which is plenty for a small collection of documents. This means that anyone can create a OneDrive Basic account and receive files and folders from you. 

Even its paid plans won’t break the bank, starting as low as $5 per month. This affordability helped OneDrive for Business make our list of the best cloud storage solutions for collaboration.

Plans: Personal vs OneDrive for Business 

At the low end of the OneDrive pricing structure, both the 5GB and 100GB personal plans come with basic storage functionality. However, they are limited in security options and don’t come with offline access to Office 365. 

OneDrive Basic 5GB
  • 5 GB Storage
OneDrive 100GB
  • 100 GB Storage
Microsoft 365 Personal
  • Comes with Office 365 Personal
  • 1000 GB Storage
1-year plan $ 5.83/ month
$69.99 billed every year
Save 17 %
Microsoft 365 Family
  • Comes with Office 365 Home
  • 5000 GB Storage
1-year plan $ 8.33/ month
$99.99 billed every year
Save 17 %
OneDrive for Business Plan 1
  • Price per user
  • 1000 GB Storage
1-year plan $ 5.00/ month
$60.00 billed every year
OneDrive for Business Plan 2
  • Price per user
  • Unlimited GB Storage
1-year plan $ 10.00/ month
$120.00 billed every year
Microsoft 365 Business Standard
  • Price per user
  • 1000 GB Storage
1-year plan $ 12.50/ month
$150.00 billed every year
Save 17 %

The next step up, Microsoft 365 Personal, comes with 1TB of storage, greater security and access to the core Office apps for $69.99 per year. This can be expanded to six unique users (without sacrificing any features) with a Microsoft 365 Family account for $99.99 per year.

For the extra productivity tools and security options, the OneDrive Business plans are another step up. However, not all of the choices here include the offline Office apps, so if you are considering it, read our full review of OneDrive for Business.

Personal Cloud Storage Alternatives

Although OneDrive is great, it’s hardly the best online storage for everyone, and there are many other options that are worth checking out.

If it doesn’t quite meet your needs but security isn’t one of your concerns, the other cloud giants have their own specialties. Google Drive focuses on low prices and vast third-party integration, whereas Dropbox comes into its own when you’re sharing or syncing files.

For a more secure option than OneDrive, our two favorites — Sync.com and pCloud — are a good place to look. Both of these services use cutting-edge data protection, although they lose the smooth integration and high speeds of the larger providers.

Final Thoughts

OneDrive is easy to use and can do everything an average user might want. It’s a cheap and simple way to increase your device’s storage space or share files with other users. You’ll even have access to your data on the go with the OneDrive apps for Android and iOS.

This will be the perfect fit for some users, especially those already using Microsoft Office. However, if mediocre security and tight storage limits are a deal-breaker, you can disable OneDrive and there are many other providers fighting for the title of the best cloud storage

Do you use OneDrive for your remote storage? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and check out our piece on OneDrive’s security, too. Thanks for reading.

FAQ

  • Is OneDrive Free?

    There is a 5GB Basic plan available for free, with up to 10GB extra attainable through referrals. However, without a decent amount of space or the offline Office applications, this is a somewhat limited way to use OneDrive. To get a better experience without paying anything, use the free 30-day trial of the full Microsoft 365 Personal plan.