OneDrive and SkyDrive – not for slow connections and the developing world

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skydrivelogoMicrosoft has done a great job over the years developing its SkyDrive (now OneDrive) online storage platform.  The idea was to allow computer users to store their valued data on Microsoft’s servers as a backup to the files on a user’s computer.  This worked very well until Microsoft decided, with Windows 8.1, to make storage in the cloud the default option, replacing storage on the user’s hard drive.  According to Microsoft’s vision, local storage was no longer necessary.  Everything could be stored on Microsoft’s servers and accessed on any device from any location anywhere.  This is plausible, IF you want to trust all your data to the cloud AND you have a reasonably fast internet collection which allows you access your data when you need it.

Cloud storage only is clearly a vision hatched from and for places which have good and affordable broadband connections.  That’s NOT the Philippines.  Of course Microsoft, Google and the rest give you “free” or cheap storage in their clouds because they are happy to have your files, but Microsoft has gone too far, creating a solution which is unworkable in much of the developing world.

Here are some specific problems with SkyDrive and OneDrive.

There is no pause or stop or cancel option for OneDrive syncing.  This can be a big problem. With a big sync your poky internet connection will be tied up, possibly for days, possibly violating ISP data caps, possibly preventing other work and there is nothing you can do to stop the sync.

SmartFiles.  By default, files are not really stored on your computer.  Small placeholder files, “SmartFiles” are created. The real file is on Microsoft’s servers and will be downloaded when you click the SmartFile.  If your connection is down or slow, it can difficult or impossible to access your own files.

File History.  SkyDrive/OneDrive files cannot be backed up by the excellent Windows File History backup program.  File History is essential as it allows you to browse through previous saved versions of any file and restore the one you want.  Only the current version is saved on OneDrive/SkyDrive. If that file is deleted or damaged, there is no previous version stored.   In fact it’s hard to use SkyDrive with any backup program or USB drive because files are no longer on your computer.  When the backup program runs into a “SmartFile” it just freezes, because there really is no locally stored file to backup.

So, while SkyDrive/OneDrive works fine for those who live in Redmond (Microsoft’s HQ) or somewhere else with fast internet connections, it’s just not workable for those of us with slow, unreliable connections and data transfer caps.

For me, I feel more comfortable having the multiple version backup available through File History than I do having the single version “in the cloud” via SkyDrive.

Solutions.  You can adapt to this situation in several ways.  You can force OneDrive/SkyDrive to save all of your files on your local hard drive or you can get rid of SkyDrive.  Instructions for both options are given below.

Making your files stay on your computer.  To ensure that all your files will be available on your computer, you have to set up SkyDrive to do so.  Microsoft calls this making files “available offline”.  I prefer to think of it as keeping one’s own files on one’s own computer, in addition to allowing them to be backed up on SkyDrive.  In some ways this is the best of both worlds.  You get to keep the full versions of your own files on your computer and have them automatically backed up on the SkyDrive servers.  These are the Microsoft’s instructions to making files offline in the SkyDrive “Metro” or “Modern” app.  See

  1. Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Settings.
    (If you’re using a mouse, point to the lower-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer up, and then click Settings.)
  2. Tap or click Options, and then turn on Access all files offline.

To make files available offline using File Explorer.  Press and hold or right-click the file, and then choose “Make available offline”. To make your entire SkyDrive available offline, press and hold or right-click SkyDrive in the left pane, and then choose Make available offline.

Banishing SkyDrive/OneDrive.  When you install Windows, don’t use a Microsoft account.   Microsoft makes it confusing to install Windows without creating or connecting to an existing Microsoft account, but that option exists and likely will continue to exist as many corporate users don’t want their files stored in Microsoft’s cloud.  Instructions for intalling Windows without a Microsoft account can be found in this Tech Republic article

If you already have a Windows installed and connected to a Microsoft account you can easily disconnect from it and and create a local account.  When you do this, SkyDrive/OneDrive will no longer be activated.  Another Tech Republic article shows how to do this.  It’s easy.  If you wish, use another online storage service.  Best are those that store files on your computer in an unmodified form. and are both good.  Box will give you ten gigabytes for free.  Google Drive is another option, but I don’t favor it because I have had sync problems with it in the past.  I laboriously uploaded many gigabytes of data over my slow connection.  The sync between the files on my computer and those on Google broke down and could not be repaired without resyncing all the data.  That’s when I switched to SkyDrive.  I have never had a sync problem with SkyDrive.

Conclusion.  While SkyDrive (and OneDrive) are marvels and work well, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages for me.  For most users, the hype over cloud storage is overdone.  It mainly serves the interests of the big tech companies (who want your data) and the National Security Agency (who wants your data).  I have disabled SkyDrive.  I use Microsoft File History to automatically backup the files to a network drive.  In my case this is a third hard drive in my computer.  I also back up to a separate USB hard drive which is only connected to the computer during backups.  For files on my computer which I know I will need to access on my smartphone or tablet, I use files saved to a free DropBox account.  While it was cool to be able to access absolutely all SkyDrive files on my phone, it was really overkill and a possible security risk if my phone was lost or stolen.  Dropbox is really the better service as it has a local storage option which makes key files available on my phone even when there is no Wi-Fi or cellular service.

Hope this helps.

Comments (2) Write a comment

  1. I don’t know about WIn 8, which I presume you’re using, but with the OneDrive app on Vista, I can stop a sync operation simply by right-clicking the tray icon and choosing Exit.


  2. In my opinion cloud storage is just a waste of time and resources as long you are a home user only. I wont trust anything that has do with cloud storage, when it comes to my own personal Data. If you are in the need of using cloud storage, then you could use a heavy encryption program that is controlled by the same user and not some remote server.
    For my family data storage, I’ll rather setup my own server in my own house for that particular purpose/storage. Yes, you could port into it, remotely with a web able program, but not a cloud web site.


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