Users still want OneDrive placeholders in Windows 10

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Users still want OneDrive placeholders in Windows 10

Last Month, Kareem wrote an editorial about how Windows 10’s is set to change OneDrive’s sync features by removing ‘smart files.’ In his editorial, Kareem detailed how ‘smart files’ led him to prefer OneDrive over other cloud services such as DropBox, because he could store a large amount of data in the cloud, larger than his device’s hard drive, and still have all of those files show up synced in File Explorer as ‘smart files.’

Windows 10 is set to remove the ‘smart files’ sync feature from OneDrive and Kareem isn’t the only one disappointed by this news. In Microsoft’s UserVoice forum, where anyone can suggest features for Windows, the call to restore this feature in Windows 10 has received over 12,000 votes, and has nearly 700 comments.

To explain why Microsoft is removing a feature that is so popular among ‘power users,’ first I have to briefly explain ‘smart files.’ In Window 8.1, OneDrive allowed you to sync your entire cloud on your PC, even if you didn’t have enough room on your device for all those files, by allowing you to selectively sync certain files and folders. They could either be completely synced and fully downloaded, or downloaded as a ‘smart file,’ meaning that it really is just a placeholder.

The small placeholder takes up much less space but necessitates a connection to OneDrive to actually open the file. This allowed users to have massive libraries of files show up on your device as if the files were actually on your computer, but still have room to spare. In Kareem’s case this allowed him to sync folders of 80 to 100 GB on his Ultrabook’s 128 GB SSD.

So why is this feature going away with Windows 10? Microsoft issued a statement on their OneDrive blog all the way back in January to explain their choice, and the mantra in Redmond of “One Microsoft” is partially to blame for the removal of smart files. The selective sync feature for smart files was made possible in Windows 8.1 by introducing a third sync engine to OneDrive. As with many things in Windows 10 (Universal Apps, the unified Windows Store, etc), Microsoft has decided there should only be one sync engine for OneDrive.

OneDrive roadmap

The push to have one version of Microsoft services will bring great features and compatibility in most cases, such as migrating accounts to the Office 365 backend services, or Lync and Skype coming to share the same platform. But in the case of OneDrive, consolidating the sync engines will mean the loss of smart files.

Microsoft also explained that customer feedback showed while the feature was innovative, it also caused a great deal of confusion for many users. It wasn’t always clear to users which files were ‘smart files’ and which weren’t. This left people frustrated when they tried to open a smart file without an internet connection; thinking it was on their device because it showed up in File Explorer. Certain apps also had trouble opening ‘smart files’ even when the device was connected to the cloud.

Entire OneDrive libraries can always be accessed through the web app, but it’s clear this workaround is not sufficient for many power users who had come to rely on the innovative feature that saved a great deal of hard drive space. How do you feel about the loss of smart files?  A necessary loss for taking the next step, as Microsoft explains, or a big misstep?

Thanks to our reader Pip for the tip.