OneDrive for Business: lots of cloud storage; terrible sync client

This content is 10 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve been a Dropbox user for years but with Microsoft’s upgrade of OneDrive for Business (formerly Skydrive Pro) to include 1TB of storage for every Office 365 user, I decided to move the majority of my files to that platform.  I could pay for additional Dropbox storage but, frankly, why do I need to, with that much storage included in my Office 365 E1 subscription?

However, after a couple of days trying to force a synchronisation of legacy content into OneDrive for Business (noting the various restrictions), I have drawn the following conclusion:

The One Drive for Business sync engine is “pants” (definition 3 in the OED).

It’s straightforward enough to define folders for syncing into SharePoint Online (which is where OneDrive for Business stores data), and most of my content synced OK but I had one folder of correspondence, going back to my early days of using a PC (some WordStar and WordPerfect files, as well as some very early Word formats in there – right through to current day documents) that was causing difficulties.

Unfortunately, whilst the OneDrive for Business client is able to sync folders in parallel, it seems to work through a folder in serial. If it comes up with a problem, it doesn’t seem to skip it and move on – at least not in the way that might be expected. It might flag an issue, but there’s no “skip file” option. And it doesn’t seem to have a method for forcing a sync either. Or for telling me which file it’s currently attempting to work with.  Here’s what I found…

Uploading files directly to OneDrive will change the modified date (perhaps to be expected):

Opening a “stuck file” in Word will present a sign-in error:

Even if you are already signed in:

and verified with File, Account

No good attempting to sign out (and in again) either:

(I’m logged into my Windows 8.1 PC using a Microsoft account, although I can switch to the organisation account that uses the same credentials for Office 365 access).

One thing I found that would sometimes kick-start proceedings was (in Word) removing the Connected Service for OneDrive – (and then adding it again, which forces a re-authentication):

Sometimes, I found that wasn’t necessary – just by ignoring the “credentials needed” error it might go away after a while!

I even resorted to opening each “stuck file” and closing it again, making sure I didn’t actually change it (clicking the Sign In button will update the document). This seemed to unblock things for a while until, eventually, I found myself in a situation where Word wouldn’t open any of the content waiting to sync. Some of the errors suggested it was trying to download the cloud copy rather than the local one whilst other times it failed silently.

In fairness, OneDrive for Business does have an option to repair the synced folders but that downloads everything from SharePoint again… and as half of it hadn’t got up there yet that wasn’t going to help much!

I re-installed Office 2013 and was just about to do the same with OneDrive for Business (which turns out to be based on Groove) but, instead, I decided to simply create a new folder and paste the files into that – effectively a second copy of the data to start the sync again from fresh.

After all the fighting with the first copy, the second copy synced in a few minutes (well, it got stuck on a few files but I deleted them, then pasted them in again, after which they synced).  It seems that, fundamentally, the OneDrive for Business sync engine is more than a little bit flaky (which doesn’t leave me feeling good about my data).  Thankfully, Microsoft is reported as acknowledging that the sync limits are “well understood” – and I hope that doesn’t just include the limits on item counts and file naming imposed by the SharePoint back-end.

Isn’t this is all just a bit too much effort for what Dropbox (and others) have made so simple?

25 thoughts on “OneDrive for Business: lots of cloud storage; terrible sync client

  1. Hey Mark,
    Don’t forget the other minus about OneDrive Pro sync client, it changes files as it syncs (
    Microsoft have a perfectly good sync client for OneDrive which is different from the sync client for OneDrive Pro that you’re talking about here. I believe I’m correct in saying that if you buy O365 Home and Student then you get OneDrive, not OneDrive Pro.

    Thus, its totally perverse that if you have the more expensive O365 subscription then you get the inferior sync client. They desperately need to move to a single infrastructure, thankfully there are signs that that is what they are doing:


  2. Hi Jamie,
    I suspect the changing the files during sync was the reason for the issues (with old binary format Office documents, etc.) but once it had got in a mess it seemed it couldn’t get out again! Dumping another folder in there full of scanned documents in PDF format was fine. Presumably because they are not in Office format!

    “it[‘]s totally perverse that if you have the more expensive O365 subscription then you get the inferior sync client”

    Totally agree. And, as for single infrastructure, identity management for the consumer services need to be merged to Microsoft Azure Active Directory soon too (starting to go off topic there a bit)!


  3. Actually I think its very much on topic (from a wider perspective anyway). The greatest asset Microsoft have (IMO) isn’t their massive Windows install base, its their massive AD install base.

    Paul Thurrott wrote about this a few days ago ( but I think he missed an important point – if Microsoft can make AD & Microsoft Accounts seamless then they’re really onto something. Its ridiculous that today I have to create a Microsoft Account for my Azure AD account email address in order to access certain resources (e.g. MSDN) yet they’re not actually the same thing (e.g. different passwords). Ludicrous.

    (I’m not getting into the “its” vs “it’s” debate with you :))

  4. I’m a teacher and have been a happy dropbox user for years. Unfortunately dropbox does not comply with the UK data protection act (the servers are outside the EU) so I have to be careful what I put in it. When our school updated to office 365 I saw onedrive for business as a brilliant alternative for me so I’ve been trying to use it for a couple of months. When it’s actually worked it’s been ok (nice to be able to edit documents in a browser) but for the most part it’s been a ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE.

    I’ve had massive sync problems as you’ve outlined, frequently files just won’t sync, citing write access errors. The sync app itself is a resource hog on our underpowered school PCs slowing everything down and freezing sometimes. The website is confusing to use. The complete separation between onedrive and onedrive for business is massively confusing (so, I google onedrive, try to login, ‘account does not exist’ – huh?!). I’ve had to repair and resync my library countless times. The last straw this week has been that our school has updated it server and we now have roaming profiles. Onedrive does not like this for some reason, and through some error where I logged onto two computers at once, it emptied every file just leaving the folder structure. It did this TWICE. And on top of that there’s not even a sync client for macs so I can’t use it at home. I’m desperately trying to get all of my files out of it now, but can’t even get a sync to complete.

    Dropbox syncs seamlessly, quickly, reliably and is totally dependable. Onedrive for business is a total embarrassment from start to finish and I am dumbfounded how a company as large and generally respected as microsoft could release such a dog’s dinner to the public. I would urge anyone thinking about using it to run a mile unless you really want to waste hours and make a mess of your files.

  5. try doing this on a mac – one can only imagine that MS are deliberatly sabotaging mac users out of spite – proper cockpumps they are

    even if you use the web interface try see docs shared with me on any platform other than the web – impossible

  6. Hello,

    my personal experience with OneDrive for Business is also very bad. It looks like the issues will not be resolved until they merge the OneDrive and OneDrive for business sync engines which is what they announced for Windows 10. Looks like there is hope at the end of tunnel for all of us struggling with OneDrive for Business.

    Jan Sichula

  7. Surprise! Onedrive (not he pro) syncs perfect in Mac Yosemite, but later can’t sync with my PC running Win7… I suggest to try the personal version of Onedrive, looks much better then the pro version.

  8. One drive client is horrible and I experienced the same issues as you. For the same reasons I changed from dropbox, which worked perfectly and reliable, to onedrive. Instead of making things easier because onedrive (in opposite to dropbox) is embedded in in windows, it makes things more complicated: Files won’t sync for reasons I i dont understand (windows says there are conflicts <-im working alone on my documents!!). So far, it has been a horrible experience with one drive, not to mention that it slows down my Surface 3 pro. I would throw it away instantly if dropbox would provide me with more space for free like my office packet.

  9. The good news Marc is that OneDrive (not OneDrive for Business) works well. Also there is a new OneDrive for Business/SharePoint sync client expected in Office 2016.

  10. Onedrive for business is a total waste of time at the moment. I have it in my corporation and its more of a hassle than anything ells. Sync failures for no apparent reason. To repair the sync failures you have to repair the Onedrive for business app and this resets everything, makes your current Onedrive for business folder a .old and re-syncs everything from the cloud. Some of my users have 20GB of stuff in it so that could take a day or two meaning they cant work unless they access the online portal. Drives me nuts having to repair all the time. Its not a trusted platform and Microsoft has to get with it. Its 2015 for goodness sake. This has now forced me to look at an alternative like Dropbox for business at an additional cost and more work. How can you sell something that doesn’t work. If it wasn’t for Office apps and Exchange Online I would have turfed it a long time ago.

  11. The new client with Office 16 is as bad (if not worse) than the old one!. I believe the whole thing is to do with Microsoft’s control freak mentality – why should they care what I sync? I’m running a furniture business not a porn store! I shall change to Dropbox, which never has sync problems and to hell with the expense.

  12. The new sync client is still a preview though, and I’m more concerned with the reliability of the sync than any restrictions (although I though the idea was that many of the restrictions are being removed).

  13. It’s sync issues still and they generally cite file name too long or some such nonsense despite being a normal office file. I have repaired twice, having gone through all the rigmarole of removing the files and reinstalling Office and it still can’t sync, despite the very same files are synced to a windows 7 machine. All of this stuff has synced to Dropbox, which doesn’t care if the filename is too long as it doesn’t want to open it! This is Windows 10 machine with Office 16 – makes you want to buy a Mac!

  14. Hello,

    now I myself am not yet running Office 2016 but as far as I was able to ascertain, what is there inside by default in still the old Groove based trouble loaded sync engine as technology behind it’s OneDrive for Business functionality. Now the ALL NEW sync engine/client for OneDrive for Business has only freshly entered partial preview phase at and is INDEPENDENT of Office 2016.

    Best regards,
    Jan Sichula

  15. I have a similar synch issue which is forcing me to go back to Dropbox and pay for 1TB annually.
    If I can’t upload 80 GB up to my 1drv folder, does it matter I got 1TB for free through my 365 purchase?
    Or “included”

  16. Hello Anonumous,

    AFAIK, the limit for file size is presently 10 GB for both consumer and business editions of OneDrive. We will see whether it will ever get further expansion as it get when it was changed from 2 GB to 10 GB. It is my conviction that OneDrive delivers good value for money and for me it is my primary online storage service.

    Best regards,
    Jan Sichula

    [religious text removed]

  17. It is totally “pants”. File syncing and sharing (and subsequent syncing) is expected behavior for this kind of tool. OneDrive for Business wouldn’t pass “alpha” status in functionality or robustness in my product organization.

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