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How do I get OneDrive under control? [Ask ZDNet]

Got a tech question? Ed Bott and ZDNet's squad of editors and experts probably have the answer.
People with heads in clouds

When you upgrade to Windows 11 Home edition, the default settings configure your system to "back up your files" to OneDrive.

Getty Images

Welcome to the latest installment of Ask ZDNet, where we answer the questions that make your IT guy reach for the Tums. 

In the mailbag this week: After upgrading to Windows 11, a reader reports that their local Documents, Pictures, and Desktop folders are now being synced to OneDrive. What happened? 

How do I get OneDrive under control?

I have two PCs both using the same Microsoft Account, which has never been a problem before, but Windows 11 is struggling with OneDrive-related problems, even to the extent of running out of storage on my 256GB SSD. The Desktop, Pictures, and Documents folders from both systems are now being merged, which is generating many headaches. Is this how OneDrive is supposed to work? How do I "tame" it?

I was a bit startled when I saw this in action recently, but I can confirm this is how Windows 11 works. 

When you upgrade to Windows 11 Home Edition, the default settings configure your system to "back up your files" to OneDrive. In practice, that means your Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders are relocated to OneDrive, and they're synced with any other system where you sign in with that account.  

That option can, as you have seen, wreak havoc if you have tens of gigabytes of files in those core system folders on one PC and they get copied to another. 

To restore order (and reclaim all those gigabytes of disk space), you have two choices. 

You can turn off OneDrive backup completely. Open File Explorer, right-click the OneDrive icon in the navigation pane on the left and choose OneDrive > Manage OneDrive Backup. That opens this dialog box, where you can click Stop Backup under one or more of the three folders in question. When you do, your local folders will be restored; just be aware that your saved files are still in OneDrive and you'll need to migrate them back to your local drive to regain easy access. 

Manage Folder Backup Screen
Ed Bott

The second option is to keep backing up those folders to OneDrive, but create archive folders for older files you don't need to have on hand at all times. You can then right-click those folders and remove the checkmark from the Always Keep On This Device option. That way, your files are backed up to the cloud, but they take up almost no local space. 

I agree that Microsoft has done a terrible job of documenting how OneDrive works. That's a shame because it's an extremely reliable service and it represents a great way to keep local files backed up. Maybe someone on the OneDrive team will read this post and put together an easy-to-follow how-to guide so others aren't bedeviled by this feature. 

Send your questions to ask@zdnet.com. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't guarantee a personal reply, but we do promise to read every letter and respond right here to the ones that we think our readers will care about. Be sure to include a working email address in case we have follow-up questions. We promise not to use it for any other purpose.


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