Microsoft updates OneDrive for Business with new sync client, updated Android and iOS mobile apps

Microsoft is making available in limited preview its promised next-generation sync client for OneDrive, along with OneDrive for Business updates for iOS and Android.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Earlier this year, Microsoft officials said to expect Microsoft to debut a new, unified OneDrive consumer and OneDrive for Business sync client in the third calendar quarter of 2015.

As today, September 30, is the last day of the third calendar quarter, Microsoft made it just under the wire.

Microsoft is updating OneDrive for Business -- its cloud-storage service -- with a number of new features on a variety of platforms, starting today.

The promised next-generation sync client (NGSC) for OneDrive consumer and OneDrive for Business on PCs and Macs is entering the limited public preview phase today. The combined client adds OneDrive for Business connectivity to the OneDrive consumer client. The production version of NGSC for PCs and Macs will be out before year-end, as previously promised, officials said.

A number of businesses have been testing NGSC in private preview form in recent months. Today, Microsoft is broadening the eligible pool of testers. Businesses interested in testing the updating OneDrive for Business sync client can put their names on a wait list in order to get an email as to where to download the new sync client once Microsoft moves ahead with its staggered rollout.

The NGSC offers selective sync, plus the removal (once it's generally available) of the current 20,000 file-sync limit, as well as support for files up to 10 GB in size, up from the current 2 GB limit.

Microsoft also is improving the Web-user experience for OneDrive for Business to make it more like the one for OneDrive consumer. Users can switch between list and preview tile views to identify their key files, and can easily trigger key actions on files or folders, including preview, edit, share and delete.

Microsoft is making sharing easier via the Web interface, so that users can more readily share links with others inside a user's organization. Microsoft also is adding the ability to add expiration dates to OneDrive for Business sharing links.

"We're making all-user sharing viral inside an organization," said Reuben Krippner, Director of Product Marketing for OneDrive for Business.

As part of today's updates, Microsoft is adding new features to the Android OneDrive for Business app, including offline access for files. Microsoft plans to bring that offline sharing capability "soon" (at worst case, before year-end) to iOS and Windows Phones OneDrive for Business clients, Krippner said.

(On Microsoft's updated OneDrive roadmap, which it released in early May, delivery of the company's Universal OneDrive app, with read-only access for offline files, is listed as a Q4 deliverable.)

On the iOS OneDrive for Business side, Microsoft is adding new command and gesture capabilities. Users on iOS can annotate PDF documents directly in the OneDrive for Business app, with all markup stored within the file, similar to the way Microsoft allows Edge browser users to annotate their saved pages. This capability will come to Android and Windows Phone devices by the end of calendar 2015, officials said.

So what about the promised replacement for placeholder files, a Windows 8/8.1 OneDrive feature Microsoft removed with OneDrive for Windows 10? There's nothing new to say on that front today, Krippner said.

"We are committed to the (placeholder) scenario, but implementation in 8.1 didn't meet our quality or performance bar," Krippner reiterated. "But we are committed to the scenario and working on a best implementation."

Krippner said to expect Microsoft to update the public OneDrive roadmap around the end of November 2015. He wouldn't say whether there will be any new information about when and how Microsoft will institute a replacement for placeholders in OneDrive at that time, however.

I also asked whether Microsoft had more to share about when the company would deliver on its promised unlimited OneDrive storage. Again, there was nothing new to say on that front.

"We are working towards it (unlimited storage)," he said. "We want to make sure you can store all your business files in our cloud."

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