One the confusing things at this point in time that we have a number of different OneDrive sync clients on Windows. Hopefully, I can shed some light on the role that each of these play here.
Two independent services
The first thing to appreciate is that there are two cloud based OneDrive services into which you can store files.
The first of these is the free consumer offering found at:
You access this service using a free Microsoft account. This account is also typically now the same as the account used to login to stand alone Windows 10 machines.
The second service is a commercial product that is part of Office 365 for Business:
As you can see both services now look very, very similar:
OneDrive consumer (above)
OneDrive for Business (above)
I’m not going to dive into the differences between the consumer and business OneDrive here, however you need to appreciate that there are two separate OneDrive services currently and both allow you to synchronise files from the cloud to your desktop.
OneDrive Consumer sync
The first sync client to consider is the one provided for OneDrive consumer. You’ll need a OneDrive consumer account to access the services. For many people that is now the same as their Windows 10 login.
Also, modern operating systems like Windows 10 automatically include the OneDrive consumer sync tool. If you don’t have the OneDrive consumer sync tool installed you’ll find it here:
If the OneDrive consumer sync tool is running on your desktop you can open the system tray, as shown above, and you should find a white icon with clouds as highlighted above.
If you now right mouse click on this white cloud icon you will see the above menu. You will notice that the first option says Open your OneDrive – Personal folder. This is an indication that this tool is synchronising files from OneDrive consumer service to your desktop.
If you select the Settings menu item you will see the above. Note at the top that this tool is connecting using my Microsoft consumer account (email@example.com). Note that I can also select which folders I wish to sync from the cloud to my desktop using the Choose folders button.
You may notice at the bottom of this dialog the Add a business account button. I’ll come back to this later. However, the important thing is that this sync client (i.e. white clouds) is designed to sync files from OneDrive consumer service to the desktop.
If you look at your file system, the files from OneDrive consumer are synced with this tool to a OneDrive – Personal location as shown above.
OneDrive for Business sync (classic)
The second sync icon to examine here is the one of the two that has dark blue clouds. This one also does has as pronounced outline and is highlight above.
When you right mouse click on this icon you’ll see the above menu options. You will notice that the first option says Open your OneDrive for Business folder. This is an indication that this tool is synchronising files from OneDrive for Business service to your desktop.
This client is the original sync tool for Office 365 for Business in that it could synchronise both the OneDrive for Business files in Office 365 as well as those found in SharePoint Online Team Sites. Thus, it could sync from two separate locations in Office 365 for business.
If you elected to synchronise your personal OneDrive for Business files they would be saved into a location denoted by OneDrive – Tenant Name as shown above.
If you elected to synchronise information from SharePoint Online Team Sites in Office 365 for business they would saved into a location called SharePoint as shown above.
Unfortunately, as the amount of business data grew and people wanted to sync this volume of data to desktops like other products, the OneDrive for Business classic sync client started to have issues. This resulted in common errors during the sync process.
If you are experiencing these sync issues with OneDrive for Business classic sync tool, I wrote a blog post a while back that may help:
Due to these sync issues and the growing volume desired to be synced Microsoft decided to go back to the drawing board with their OneDrive for Business sync and re-write it from scratch. That new tool is known as the OneDrive for Business NextGen sync client.
OneDrive for Business NextGen sync client
The NextGen sync icon looks a lot like the classic OneDrive for Business sync. If you look closely, it has a more pronounced outline.
If you right mouse click on the NextGen sync client you’ll see the above menu which is very different from the OneDrive for Business classic sync tool. You will notice that the first option displays as Open you OneDrive – Tenant name folder. This is an indication that this tool is synchronising files from OneDrive for Business service to your desktop.
If you select Settings you’ll see that options are almost identical to those of the OneDrive consumer sync tool. This is because this OneDrive for Business NextGen sync tool is based on that. You will however, notice that I am connected to this using my Office 365 for Business account.
At the moment the NextGen sync client can only synchronise OneDrive for Business files, it cannot do files from SharePoint Online Team Sites. This means that if you need to sync Team Site files you’ll need to use the OneDrive for Business classic sync. Microsoft have publically committed to update the NextGen sync client to also do Team Sites before the end of this year.
The NextGen sync client overcomes all of the sync issues that were evident with the OneDrive for Business classic sync client. It also provides additional feature like selective file sync.
If you want to learn more about the OneDrive for Business NextGen sync client start here:
It is therefore possible for you to have three OneDrive sync clients on your Windows desktop all syncing to different locations as shown above.
If you have the OneDrive for Business NextGen sync client installed it will automatically take over the job of syncing your OneDrive for Business files from the OneDrive for Business classic client, leaving the classic client only syncing SharePoint Online Team Sites.
As noted previously, you have the option with both the OneDrive consumer and OneDrive for Business NextGen client to add a personal and business account to the one tool and allow it to perform both functions for you. This is certainly the preferred option if you need to reduce complexity and you don’t have the need to sync SharePoint Online Team Sites.
Microsoft have committed to consolidate all these different sync clients into one before the end of this year. They are already bring a range of new features to the NextGen sync client and have committed to a whole lot more. You can read about the latest updates here:
OneDrive sync clients have had a chequered history. It has also brought a lot of challenges with its ‘appropriate’ using with Office 365 for Business. However, I am now very positive with the development and direction I see. Things are still a little confusing for end users, as the above demonstrates, but you need to remember we are still in transition here. Sure, I’d like changes to come quicker but I am very pleased to see that change is now happening on a regular cadence. That’s what gives me the confidence to say that I reckon the OneDrive for Business sync tool will soon be the premier cloud file syncing experience available on the market. There is still a ways to go, I admit, but I really feel things are on the right track for the way people want to work with file sync.
Of course, you can’t overlook all the improvements in the mobile versions of OneDrive but I’ll leave that to an upcoming blog post but I hope this post has made things a bit easier for people to understand the current environment with OneDrive sync options.