OneDrive: A lot more than simply a place to store your files

In typical Microsoft fashion, they saw a good idea — online file store, sync, and share — and then took a long time to get it right. It was a painful process. But as they’ve done before, Microsoft not only created the thing called OneDrive, but the comeback kid finally got it right. Maybe better than right. It’s actually really, really good. Most people think of OneDrive as the place where they can store files and they don’t look much further into the full feature set. That’s a shame because it’s got very good security including ransomware protections, monitoring, recovery, and backup solutions built in. It also integrates into nearly everything while saving space on your computer. The sync engine, while originally persnickety, is now rock solid.

Let me point out a few of the features I find most useful that aren’t obvious to the casual user.

Status column

Let’s start with the feature you might already know about — the status column. With OneDrive you control where your files reside (collectively known as Files on Demand) and the status column lets you see at a glance what’s going on with each file and folder. That column tells me whether each file and folder is saved locally or in the cloud only, what its sync status is, whether it has a problem, and if I’ve shared with someone. It’s a very important at-a-glance tool.

State solumn in OneDrive

In the figure above, I’ve included a legend to illustrate what each status item means. For sharing, the person icon is your indication that the file or folder has been shared. OneDrive shared file indicator

Right-click menu

The right-click menu has a few gems in it that I have highlighted. I think it’s one of the most useful right-click menus.

From here you’ve got several OneDrive specific items. View Online will take you to the web version. You might need this if you’re going to configure a Flow to do a task for you or if you want to restore a previous version. The previous version you see here in the menu is an unrelated Windows feature so ignore that. Instead, you’ll choose view online to restore a file. OneDrive offers the option to restore a file, folder, or entire OneDrive to a previous version. This is your ransomware protection and a backup of sorts.

Settings lets you turn on Files on Demand, configure backup, set up your account, and more. Always keep on this device tells OneDrive to always keep a copy of the file locally and never move it to cloud only. Free up space instructs OneDrive to remove all of the temporarily saved local files and put everything not marked with the solid green check into cloud-only status and remove the local copies. I do this periodically to clear up files I no longer need to be carrying around. Give Access to… lets me share a file or folder with someone else.


Settings deserve a look. In settings is where you’ll tell OneDrive to keep a copy of your Desktop, Documents, and Pictures. These three locations compromise the backup solution that OneDrive offers.

On the Backup tab pressing Manage backup launches the backup wizard that starts syncing a copy of your Desktop, Pictures, and Documents folders.

OneDrive setup backup

The Setting tab is where you enable the File On-Demand feature. Files on demand is the feature that gives you the option of syncing only some of your files locally while leaving those you rarely need in the cloud. You’ll still need all of your files regardless of where they are stored so there’s no risk of losing track of them. It’s simply an option to help save space on your local hard drive while giving you the best file performance your local hard drive offers. Microsoft recently announced that files will soon start to sync using differential sync, meaning if you change a “u” to an “o” in your document, the “o” will sync up and not the entire file. This is really going to speed up sync times! Sync also means that you can access your files from different devices either using the browser on a computer that’s not yours or even your phone via the OneDrive app.

On the Account tab, you have what I call the Forget button. Microsoft calls is the Choose folders link. If you click the Choose folders link you are given the option of making some of the content in OneDrive only accessible from the web browser. I unselected a bunch of folders once and then I forgot about them and then it took me a while to remember what I had done to cause myself this grief. Hence my nickname for this feature. If you have some folders of files that you want to keep but you don’t want to see, then this option is for you. You can uncheck the box next to those folders and they won’t be visible from your computer anymore. I would use it gently, though. Perhaps you have some true archive folders that you want to hang onto but don’t need. Uncheck them to put them out of your view.


OneDrive choose folders

OneDrive choose folders

File sharing

One of the things that Microsoft touts about OneDrive is secure file sharing. As I mentioned above there’s an indicator on a file that it is shared. That’s a security feature right there because it is easy to forget that you’ve shared a file. Someday you might want to revoke that share because it’s unlikely that you need to share a file forever with someone.

OneDrive sharing settings

When I right-click on a file, I get the Share option. Choosing that I have the options below. First, I get to choose who to share my file with. My choices are anyone that gets the link that this dialog is going to generate, people in my company (if my OneDrive is part of a corporation), people that already have access but don’t know it, or individuals I choose. By default the share is to read the file only, meaning that the person I’m sharing with can’t change it. However, I can tic the Allow editing box to give them the ability to edit the file. I can also choose to block the downloading of the file, which is an option that makes sure that I’m the one that retains ownership of the file. Once it goes into someone else’s possession, well, it’s their file now.

Let’s say it’s time to stop sharing this file. This is done by right-clicking on the file and choosing Give access to, then Remove access. Clicking this offers the option to modify the permissions you’ve given as well. So you’ve changed your mind about letting them edit the file and want to switch it to read-only you can do that by clicking the Remove access menu item too. Really, instead of Remove access, you should think of it as Change access where change could be anything from adjusting to remove. I think that would be a bit clearer but I didn’t write the GUI.

OneDrive remove access to a file

I’ve highlighted the set of OneDrive features and settings available in the right-click and settings menu only in this article and already we’ve covered a lot of ground feature-wise from the perspective of the user of OneDrive. In a recent article, I touched on the ability to pair OneDrive with Flow to automate some of your paper pushing tasks and in future articles I’m going to highlight other OneDrive integrations.

Microsoft long promised a functional and secure file-syncing solution that works. It took a while to get here but they’ve delivered that us and more.

Featured image: Pixabay

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15 thoughts on “OneDrive: A lot more than simply a place to store your files”

  1. Hello there. I didn’t get one thing… I have a few folders in my HD I would sync, do I have to move all of them to that Onedrive folder (under my User folder)? Thanks!

    1. Luiz,

      Yes you have to move them into OneDrive. If you look in File Explorer you should have OneDrive listed there. Just drag and drop into it and begin using this new location.

  2. I am a Mac OSX user. I subscribed almost two years ago to OneDrive to get a license for my Office 2016 for Mac.
    That came with a 1 TB of storage, which I was very happy to hear about, just till when I tried to use it. I found that hundreds of my files wouldn’t backup to my OneDrive due to issues with the way OneDrive treats file and folder naming. I had to rename them to get them copied. that was very time-consuming so I contacted product support at Microsoft. They acknowledged at the time that Mac File System support was a challenge. Well, for any cloud product to be successful, it must be friendly and open to any-device. This wasn’t the case for OneDrive for Mac OSX users. Is this issue on a backlog to be addressed? I would love to use my 1 TB of storage!!

    1. Firas, There is a new OneDrive client for MAC and over the last couple of years the file restrictions for OneDrive accross the board have been relaxed considerably. Please refer to these two docs and also make sure that you’re running the latest client. Generally that requires that you uninstall and install the new one. and

  3. I am frustrated by not finding a clear description of OneDrive functions that also explains how each function handles files or where the files come from. For example I find nothing that explains where the pictures in the online Onedrive:Photos folder come from. I have identified roughly 5 functions: Sync Folders, Personal Vault, Backup, Fetch Files on my PC, File collaboration, Photos, and Camera Roll, etc. I have seen stories of people not understanding the effect of stopping backup since OneDrive is the master.
    Does anyone know of a site that does a clear job of describing how these functions/features handle files and how to turn on/off each function or avoid it?

  4. Amy – this is a wonderful article and very very helpful. thank you for posting. I have one question which I hope you have an answer for.

    I am using MAC. I prefer to have multiple backups systems running – local external HDD and a cloud version. For very sensitive or important files I might have a third. For my internal HDD I use Time Machine to backup to an external and local HDD. On the internal HDD I store all files and folders within the OneDrive folder. Everything is backed up to the OneDrive cloud. Do you know if Time Machine will back up a file or folder which has been coded as ‘File resides in the cloud and temporarily one the computer’ or ‘File resides in the cloud only’? I assume it will not because if the file is closed, then temporarily has presumably expired and residing in the cloud only means it is not there. If this is accurate then I believe I need to set all files and folders to ‘File resides in the cloud and permanently on the computer. do you agree?

    Lastly, what does Microsoft do to protect my files stored on the OneDrive cloud?

    1. Steve, If the files reside in the cloud only then you are just seeing the meta data and the file doesn’t exist on your computer for time machine to backup. The same for temporarily. If the file is there, yes you can back it up but once it gets that cloud icon next to it it is no longer on your computer.

      Your files are encrypted in the cloud and on your computer (im doing this from memory as how it works on the PC but it’s probably the same on a mac) You can also recover those files from the cloud in the event of ransomware. There’s also a recycle bin to recover deleted files from. It’s a reasonble protection but as I tell all of my clients, all cloud services backup for their purposes to keep the services running. But your purposes for backup are probably different. So you should back up the cloud.

  5. Amy,
    Thank you for posting this helpful information about OneDrive. I have set up OneDrive to have all my files reside on my laptop as well as on OneDrive (green circle with white check mark). I was wondering if there is a way to have OneDrive not only backup the files on the laptop to the cloud account, but also backup to an external hard drive. Thanks in advance for the reply.

  6. I am finding if I select a subfolder within a folder and choose either “Free up space” or “Always keep on this device” that it does not just apply that to the folder I selected, it applies it to every subfolder within that folder. Do you have to do this at the file level or is there a way to make this folder specific?

    1. It’s true when you share everything below that folder is shared. It is meant to share at the individual file level

  7. I have a OneDrive account and have it set up on my desktop. I save files (or move files) directly to OneDrive and use it like a separate hard drive without synching. I just bought a laptop and setup OneDrive as a part of the setup process. On my laptop now, all of the local destinations have moved to OneDrive. My Desktop, MyDocuments, etc. in This PC all point to OneDrive destinations. I can’t seem to save anything locally. I would prefer to have it setup like I do my desktop. How do I return This PC to all local destinations?

    1. Rich, What you’ve turned on is the new PC backup feature. Click on the onedrive cloud on your taskbar. Choose Settings. Move to the backup tab. Click in to stop backing up your computer.

      I would caution you though. The reason Microsoft added this feature is to offer the ability to restore data in the event of ransomware. There’s a slick one click restore option in case your machine gets encrypted.

      1. Hi Amy,
        Thank you so much for the quick reply. Here’s the rest of the story. To be sure I had access to my very important document when I went out of town for business (not sure I would have WiFi access), I moved it to the “desktop.” I was able to work on it and entered a lot of data. When I got home, I checked OneDrive, and found the original in the folder I created with no new information, and the one on my desktop with all the data I had entered. I then moved the completed document to the folder on OneDrive. The appropriate popup box came up with the message that the document already existed which one should be kept. I checked the box to keep the one from the desktop that I was moving. All seemed fine until I went to open the document through FileExplorer and the BLANK document came up. I panicked. I then went to and the completed document was there. The completed document still does not appear in FileExplorer. It has a green check mark next to it (white background) and when I open the document I get a message “UPLOAD FAILED This file wan’t uploaded because the specified path wasn’t found on the server.” Choices: Save a Copy, Discard Changes. I cannot have these kind of issues when dealing with critical documents. I do like the idea of synching everything so I have access regardless of which computer I am on, but don’t have a lot of experience with synching on OneDrive, only saving directly to it. Can you figure out what I’ve done wrong?? I really appreciate your blog and your assistance!
        Thank you,

  8. Hi Amy,

    This is a very good article. Thank you for preparing it.

    I have Laptop “A” that has an SSD, C: and rotating media D:. The laptop is being replaced by a new computer, “B” also with an SSD, C: and rotating media D:.

    I have dragged and dropped most of the contents of computer “A”‘s D: documents folders onto the OneDrive and used this setup for several years. I save and create files within these folders constantly.

    On the new computer “B” I can see and use the same OneDrive files and folders. Thinking I could download the files and folders to the new computer “B”, I checked the “Always keep on this device” at the level of “OneDrive”. (Solid green circle with a white checkmark) After much thrashing, the files seem to be on the new computer “B”. However, they are on C: which is the limited capacity SSD!

    Is there a way to direct OneDrive to use the D: drive on the new computer “B” ?

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