Will OneDrive Placeholders Return for Users of Microsoft's Cloud Storage?

Will OneDrive Placeholders Return for Users of Microsoft's Cloud Storage?

This is a subject that has been re-visited many times over the last 18 months since Microsoft pulled the popular feature from their OneDrive cloud storage service for consumers.

As a refresher, on your local hard drive placeholders served as markers for files you had stored in OneDrive and allowed you to see all of the files you had stored in the cloud without having to sync those files locally. They were very small in size and allowed you to easily sync and access a file locally and then after you were done with it the update would be synched back into OneDrive in the cloud.

It allowed you to choose exactly how much of your cloud storage was physically stored locally but still allowed you to see your entire OneDrive directory structure at anytime.  Changing the sync status of any file or directory could be accomplished through a Right Click Context Menu over that file name or directory.

This feature was removed because it apparently caused confusion for some users who could not tell the difference between files that were stored locally or only in the cloud.

As you might imagine, the response from users was swift and vocal.  Over on the OneDrive UserVoice site for the service nearly 20,000 users have upvoted a proposal to bring back placeholders and it has over 840 comments of support. It contunues to get comments on a regular basis as well.

There is a Thinking about it note on this proposal by Microsoft's Jason Moore, a Group Program Manager, dated 23 July 2015 but no other official updates from Microsoft beyond that.

Microsoft has been on a mission over the last year to merge the OneDrive sync clients for consumers and business users and have talked about the roadmap for OneDrive on a few occasions.  However, those discussions have fallen short of confirming that placeholders were coming back to OneDrive. Some terms that have been used though about it and a possible return include a feature that has placeholder like functionality.

Well, yesterday Microsoft announced the Spring updates for OneDrive for Business but missing from that information was any mention of placeholders.

One of the comments on that announcement yesterday included a reader who asked about the lack of information concerning the placeholder model.

In response to that comment, Microsoft's Reuben Krippner the Director of Product Management for OneDrive for Business, replied with this about placeholders:

"Finally, placeholders is an incredibly emotive discussion. We delivered this with Windows 8.1 and only for the consumer service. Based on overwhelming feedback from users we removed it from the client for all other OS. Obviously, the users that liked placeholders and had it taken away are upset and we respect that and hear the feedback loud and clear. The decision was a difficult one to take but one that we felt was right to deliver the quality of user experience needed. Our primary objective with the new sync client has been to deliver reliable and performant sync for all consumer and business users before we look at other desktop integration scenarios. We’re absolutely committed to delivering fast, simple and consistent experiences on the desktop with OneDrive where a user can choose what they sync on their device as well as the ability to browse, search and access all their OneDrive files from their device without having to sync them. As plans mature we'll absolutely disclose those as soon as possible."

The added emphasis is mine.

It would certainly seem that the OneDrive team knows that placeholders, or something that works similarly, are highly desired on OneDrive - which is good.

What is not so good is the fact the full merged sync engine is not likely to be done before the end of 2016 since the SharePoint Document Library Sync is not expected to be finalized and available for general release until the end of 2016.

That means, based on Krippner's comment quoted above to get the sync engine done first, that the earliest we could feasibly see a new feature along the lines of placeholder style functionality is sometime in 2017.

As I discussed this with others opinions are mixed. Some believe this is just another indication that placeholders, or anything like them, will never see the light of day adn the can is just being kicked down the road.

On the other hand, Krippner's comment to deliver a feature where a user can choose what they sync on their device as well as the ability to browse, search and access all their OneDrive files from their device without having to sync them punches at least a small hole in the clouds that we could eventually see something come to fruition. 

This fall will be two years since placeholders disappeared on all versions of Windows except Windows 8.1 and to say users are restless about their return is an understatement. However, seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel might do some good to settle things down for a while longer.

But, wait...there's probably more so be sure to follow me on Twitter and Google+.

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