To those who are active users of OneDrive and have installed Windows 10 build 9879, surely some changes that are being made to the way this service works on Windows PCs have caught your attention.

Several of these changes have generated some annoyance and commotion among Microsoft users, but the company says they are necessary because together with them a new “sync engine” is being rolled out for OneDrive which will allow the service to offer better performance in multiple scenarios, and the ability to scale considering that many users will have unlimited storage in the cloud from now on.

Let’s take a closer look at what these innovations are, and how they affect those of us who use OneDrive.

Goodbye to the “smart files”

OneDrive in Windows 8.1 offered us a very useful function called “smart files” or “placeholders”, thanks to which we could see in Windows Explorer all the files stored in our OneDrive, although many of them were not downloaded locally (and therefore, required a connection to open them). In the image below we see an example of how a “smart file” behaves in terms of used space.

The placeholder uses some space (40 KB) although the complete file is not synchronized with the computer, that space is used among other things to store metadata That allow us Search OneDrive using Windows Explorer. This search functionality surpasses that of the OneDrive website, since there you can only search for files according to their name, while thanks to smart-files we can search according to tags, author, modification date, and even search the content of the file in the case of PDFs or Office documents.

The smart-files allowed us to explore all OneDrive content from Windows Explorer, including files that were not downloaded locally

And if smart-files were so good, why did Microsoft remove them? In Redmond they give several reasons, some more convincing than others. In the first place they point out that the smart-files were confused for many users, since they made some think that these files were available offline when viewing them as another file in Explorer. Another reason is the existence of compatibility issues with certain applications such as Adobe Lightroom, which threw errors when trying to open smart-files that were not previously downloaded (although in other programs, such as Office, there are no such errors).

It seems to me that neither of those 2 arguments justify removing the feature as such issues could have been solved with a visual indicator to differentiate files downloaded from those that require connection. The icons of the latter could be translucent, or have an exclamation point, or the other way around, the files available on the premises could have a “go-ahead” icon, for example.

Having a collection of 50,000 photos in OneDrive, the space used by the smart-files of such photos would be approximately 2 GB

Microsoft also invokes performance reasons, ensuring that due to the smart-files the speed and stability of the synchronization was not so good as they wanted it to be (“sync reliability was not where we needed it to be”).

Finally, the OneDrive team alleges that smart-files would soon begin to cause problems on Windows devices with little space available, since such files continue to use some space, and when unlimited storage begins to be offered in OneDrive it becomes feasible that those files leave the user without space available to work on a tablet or small-capacity PC (8 or 16 GB).

The underlying reason: OneDrive is updating its sync engine

While Microsoft’s reasons for removing smart files are unconvincing, it is true that the company is making changes to OneDrive that seem to require “trade-offs” like this one.

The new OneDrive engine promises greater reliability and speed, but smart-files have no place in it

Redmond’s idea is to implement a new timing motor for Windows to put the reliability, scalability and speed as priorities, along with allowing OneDrive and OneDrive for Business to be used from the same interface (as in mobile applications). And as it seems, in this new engine there is no place for smart-files, which will be replaced by the selective folder sync, which would be simpler and more convenient for the objectives that Microsoft wants to achieve.

But luckily things don’t end there, because the OneDrive team remains concerned that important functionality has been lost with the transition to the new engine. That is why they affirm that they will continue working on bringing back to this new scheme features such as advanced search from Windows Explorer. They claim that soon we will be able to search from there even files that are not synchronized, and that these will be accessible directly from the results page (although these files will still not be visible from when browsing through folders).

For the future, they announce that “other key functions” of the placeholders will be implemented, without giving more details.

The new features we gain in Windows 10

A positive news is that there are already improvements that we can enjoy in Windows 10, some of them thanks to the new OneDrive synchronization engine. The first one is the possibility of have higher upload speed by activating the “batch file upload” option, which is now available in the settings panel.

Along with it, the “remote access” function returns in glory and majesty which was lost in Windows 8.1. Thanks to it, we can access via the web any file available on a Windows 10 PC that is turned on and has an internet connection, even if it is not stored in OneDrive. To activate this function on a PC, 2-step authentication will be used.

Finally, in Windows 10 more information on the progress of OneDrive synchronization is shown, and we are finally allowed get links to share without having to go through the web, but directly from the desktop, through the context menu of the explorer.

What do you think of these changes? Do you think that the move to this new synchronization engine will be for the better?

Via | Winsupersite, Dot Net Mafia