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Microsoft offers a cloud storage service called OneDrive which offers 5GB of storage at the free level. Microsoft Office subscribers receive 1TB of storage as part of the annual subscription which is $70 for one person or $100 for 6 people. There is also a 100GB service for about $2 per month.

There can be some confusion regarding what OneDrive service, what it does, and how to use it because there are three very different uses of the service. This page offers more information.

OPTION #1 — OneDrive as a Web Service

It’s possible to use OneDrive as a web service that you access from any computer using a web browser. The web interface allows you to upload, organize, download, and share files. To use the service you will need a free or paid Microsoft account. Then go to the website.

OneDrive will typically have a few initial default folder names: Documents, Email Attachments, Personal Vault, Pictures.

OPTION #2 — OneDrive as a Synchronization App

Instead of using a web browser, you can use a program on your computer or app on your smartphone to access OneDrive files and services. The same storage options and costs apply as mentioned above.

The synchronization software for a computer is handy because for the few selected files you choose to put in OneDrive, those are easily accessible on all the devices where you use the synchronization app. You can click and drag a file into the OneDrive folder on your computer and it will automatically be uploaded to the cloud. If you delete a file from your OneDrive folder, it will be deleted in the cloud and on all the synchronized devices.

OPTION #3 — OneDrive to Sync and Backup

Instead of selecting individual files to put in OneDrive, this option will upload and synchronize all of your Desktop, Documents, and Pictures. The Desktop folder will be added to OneDrive in addition to the other default folders.

If you choose this option, it will enable OneDrive as your preferred backup method in Windows 10. The File History option to backup files on an external drive will not be available — unless you turn off OneDrive synchronization.

If you put files in your Downloads folder, they will NOT automatically be uploaded to OneDrive. If your computer crashes, any downloads will not be recoverable from OneDrive. If you want to save backup copies of all your downloads to OneDrive, you should copy or move them into the Documents folder, perhaps into a folder you create called something like Saved Downloads.

To retain a backup copy of your files on an external hard drive as well, you will want to periodically click, drag, and copy them to an external drive. Preferably to a folder named for the date of the backup.

Most backup software does not backup your special files such as bookmarks from your Chrome browser, or contacts, calendars, and emails saved in an Outlook file. Some system files are saved in a hidden folder called AppData in your Windows Home folder. So you will want to have a regular routine to make backups of these.

Choosing Which OneDrive Method to Use

Here are some considerations for deciding which option above to use.

  • OPTION #1 — If you need to occasionally share large files or large groups of files with people, and they can’t be sent by email, OneDrive is a helpful service. The web interface and free 5GB capacity is sufficient for most uses.
  • OPTION #2 — If you decide OneDrive is useful, you may want to take the next step and use the OneDrive software for easier file uploading.
  • OPTION #3 — If you want a nice backup and synchronization service, to make sure all your files get regularly backed up, then choosing the full synchronization option is best. Some people are concerned about the security and privacy of sharing any files in the cloud so they disable any cloud synchronization services.