Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Working with OneDrive for Business offline

In two previous posts:

Answering some OneDrive for Business questions

OneDrive for Business document sharing

I’ve been doing a deep dive into how OneDrive for Business allows co-authoring on documents. I’ve covered working both directly from a browser but also using the OneDrive for Business desktop sync app.

That’s all well and good if you are always connected to the cloud but what happens in those rare cases when you aren’t? So let’s see.

If you followed along with the previous post you will know that we have two users working on a document from OneDrive for Business.

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Robert Crane has a Word document in his OneDrive for Business in Office 365 called ‘cloud qualification worksheet’ that he has shared with Richard Dawson who is a member of the same Office 365 tenant.

Now let’s say that Robert has this document sync’ed to his desktop using the OneDrive for Business desktop app. Everything is up to date and no one is currently editing the document. he takes his laptop on a flight and decides to work on that document while he is disconnected from the cloud, which he can do as he has a local copy.

For Robert, his updates are saved to his local machine in the local OneDrive for Business location.

For Richard, who remains online during this process, he continues to make changes to the document while Robert is travelling.

So now we have the worst case scenario. Both Robert and Richard have changed the same file. Richard’s updates are now in OneDrive for Business in the cloud and Robert’s are on his local machine waiting till he reconnects to the Internet to sync.

So now, Robert arrives at his destination and connects to the Internet, what happens?

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You’ll see that Robert get an error when his  OneDrive for Business next tries to synchronize to Office 365. This is a clear indication that there are sync issues.

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So if Robert right muse clicks on the file that has the error and selects OneDrive for Business then View sync problems from the menu he sees the following dialog.

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The result is that it seems to think there is a problem downloading the file as well a conflict. For the resolution of the conflict it says to open the file using its application to resolve.

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So I did that and as you can see in the above screen shot I get no apparent options to resolve the conflict.

Ok, now the question is how do you resolve this so you can at least keep the two files and allow the one on OneDrive for Business to remain shared.

If I however simply tried to rename the file on my desktop then I still got the sync error (as it is still the same file just with another name).

After taking a copy of my local desktop file and allowing it to sync and then deleting the conflicting file from my desktop it also removed that file from OneDrive for Business in Office 365. This meant that all the changes Richard Dawson made where lost and Richard could no longer access the file since the one shared had been deleted. Basically, even though the file on my desktop was reporting a conflict deleting it also deleted versions in the cloud. Watch that.

At the moment this is where OneDrive for Business does have limitations. However, the best solution is to avoid these type of offline issues by firstly checking the file out if you believe you will need it offline for an extended period. Checking a file out means that no one else can change the file until you check it back in. That means here Robert should have checked out the file before leaving and checking in back in upon arrival. During that period Richard could not edit the file but he could at least view it.

There will always be a struggle working offline in an online world and hopefully the OneDrive for Business desktop sync app will improve soon to add more intelligence on how this is dealt with. Simply being able to rename one copy while retaining the other copy seems like the smartest thing to me. However, at the moment if you delete the conflict it deletes the sync’ed version on OneDrive for Business even though it is different, so beware of such conflicts. The best suggestion is to make a copy of the file in OneDrive for Business using a browser before attempting anything on the desktop.

Roll on an updated sync client for OneDrive for Business on the desktop I say.