A little over a year ago I wrote a post entitled “OneDrive, TwoDrive, ThreeDrive” in which I took a slightly cheeky look of what has become known as the “Next Generation Sync Client” (NGSC) for OneDrive, and its many idiosyncrasies. I then turned that post into a speaking session (Changing the title slightly to OneDrive, TwoDrive, White Drive, BlueDrive), and that session has been presented at many events over the past year. In that post and session, it is pointed out that the NGSC still had some work to do, and that it would get done.
True to their word, it seemed that every time I presented that session, I had to modify the slides in one way or another, as another feature was added, bug was squished, or idiosyncrasy clarified. In September, at Microsoft’s Ignite event in Atlanta, Reuben Krippner announced the public preview of a new sync client (as I like to call it, the Next Next Generation Sync Client”. This version of the client addresses the principal shortcoming of its predecessor – namely that it didn’t synchronize SharePoint libraries. I’ve been running the preview ever since. With SharePoint libraries forming the backbone of all document storage in Office 365, including Office 365 Groups, this shortcoming was particularly glaring.
The good news is that this new version of the NGSC is now generally available. You can download it from the OneDrive site, or, if you use Windows 10 and are frequently updating, you’ll get it automatically. With the general availability of the new client today, it seemed like a good time to circle back and see how many of my original criticisms have been addressed.
SharePoint Library Sync
Obviously, the biggest disappointment with the original NGSC was the fact that while it added OneDrive for Business repositories in addition to OneDrive personal stores, it was unable to sync SharePoint libraries. Any library contained in an Office 365 Group or a SharePoint site was therefore excluded and resulted in users needing to run a mix of old and new client. We had this odd situation in where you would sync OneDrive for Business with the OneDrive Sync client, and all your SharePoint libraries with the OneDrive for Business sync client. Now add to it the fact that Group libraries were referred to as the Group OneDrive, and it was quite confusing for end users. Apart from the technical limitations of the old sync client (no more than 5,000 items per library, no more than 20,000 items across all libraries), adding SharePoint libraries to the new sync client greatly reduces confusion for end users and complexity for administrators.
System Tray Inconsistencies
After the rollout of the original NGSC, after connecting my personal OneDrive, my OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint libraries, I would wind up with three OneDrive icons in my system tray.
The white cloud represented the sync process for my personal OneDrive, the blue cloud with the bright white border represented my OneDrive for Business, and the blue cloud with the slightly dimmer white outline (really – look at the picture) represented all the SharePoint libraries that I was synchronizing, including Group OneDrives. If I were interacting with two different Office 365 tenants as I do today, I would have five icons for everything, and while I can certainly cope with it, the inconsistencies made it rather confusing for the end user.
Adding SharePoint libraries to the modern client reduces this complexity. Now the same scenario will show two icons – one white, one blue. The white icon represents the personal account, and the blue icon includes the OneDrive for business as well as all SharePoint libraries being synced. If two tenants are being used, as in the image below, there will be two blue icons, one for each tenant. Hovering over the icon will identify the tenant in question.
The icon styles are also now more consistent, and as an added bonus, they always line up at the top of the system tray, which is a nice touch. While we still have more than “One” drive, it’s much more understandable and usable.
File Explorer Inconsistencies
The user interface insistencies extended to the File explorer integration as well. In the same scenario as above, syncing a personal OneDrive, and a OneDrive for Business with SharePoint libraries from a single Office 365 tenant, I previously wound up with three root nodes in the Windows File Explorer.
“OneDrive – Personal” was my consumer, or personal OneDrive, “OneDrive – UnlimitedViz” was my OneDrive for Business storage connected to my UnlimitedViz tenant, and “SharePoint” contained all my SharePoint synced libraries. One inconsistency is the fact that the personal icon is white in the system tray but blue in the File Explorer. In an organization, people also tend to distinguish their content stored in their OneDrive from organization content by referring to it as “personal” so the use of the word “Personal” here can cause confusion here as well. Finally, the OneDrive branding is completely thrown out the door here when it comes to SharePoint libraries. Keep in mind that at the time, the only way to synchronize SharePoint libraries was with the “OneDrive for Business Sync Client”. However, the resulting node is called “SharePoint”
The latest client makes some significant improvement in this area as well.
“OneDrive – Personal” remains my personal (consumer) OneDrive. The two nodes here names “OneDrive – Serendipity” and “OneDrive – UnlimitedViz” are my two OneDrive for Business locations on the two tenants named “UnlimitedViz” and Serendipity”. Finally, the two nodes “Serendipity” and “UnlimitedViz” contain all the synchronized SharePoint libraries in those two tenants. While the personal icon remains stubbornly blue, the nodes here make significantly more sense and in my opinion in least are much more intuitive.
Selective Sync for SharePoint Libraries
It almost goes without saying, but the all-or-nothing approach to the OneDrive for Business sync client (previously Groove), rendered a lot of large libraries un-syncable. By bringing SharePoint libraries into the NGSC, they too get to participate in the selective folder sync that the consumer client has had for quite some time.
The previous OneDrive for Business sync client wasn’t all bad, and the NGSC wasn’t all good when compared to each other. One very useful feature that the older client had that NGSC didn’t was the ability to pause a sync. Pausing is a relatively frequent need for various reasons, but the only way that the NGSC could be paused originally was by shutting it down. Given the time it required to start back up sometimes, this was a problem. Luckily, at some point over the past year, the NGSC picked up pausing capability, and you can now pause a sync for 2, 8 or 24 hours.
Stability and Performance
Apart from features, stability and performance is probably the most obvious area where the new client outshines its predecessor. There are countless tales of users having their work “eaten” by the older client. While this hasn’t happened to me, I can point to many times that a sync got corrupted, and the only way to fix it would be to resync the entire library. This would necessarily mean a new repository as the older client couldn’t work with pre-existing content. Having used it for several months now, I have yet to experience any issue that required the total resync of a library.
The sync performance of the new client is acceptable as well. To be sure, it could still be better. Startup times are quite long for me (keep in mind that I’m syncing quite a lot of content), and occasionally the sync process gets bogged down and needs to be restarted. However, it was good enough for me to decide to move my almost 1 TB of content back into OneDrive for Business. That very same content made the move in the other direction 2 years ago, due to performance issues.
Overall, I must say that my overall impression of the new OneDrive sync client is that it is finally ready for prime time. Shortly after the preview was announced in September, I was sufficiently impressed to move my relatively large Dropbox file system (where I had a 1 TB limit) over to OneDrive for Business (with its unlimited storage). I then heaped quite a bit more storage on top of it, and it seems to be performing well now. My main OD4B storage account is currently at 3.3 TB, and my personal OneDrive is at 600 GB. I even have several Groups set up in my Office 365 MVP tenant for managing my household and those libraries are synced by myself and my wife.
Stability is fine, and performance is good enough, apart from the occasional “looking for changes” hang-up. Its value and integration have tipped the scales in its favour, certainly with respect to Dropbox in my opinion. The Office team said they were going to fix it, and they did. Good for them.