Advanced OneDrive feature to miss first version of Windows 10

Sync placeholder 'core capabilities' will be added in a later update before end of 2015


Microsoft on Thursday confirmed that it would not restore an advanced OneDrive feature to Windows 10 until after the new operating system officially releases later this year.

The news disappointed some Windows 10 testers who have been passionately pleading for the return of placeholders, or as Microsoft called them, "smart files," within File Explorer, the OS's file management tool.

"Basically, what Microsoft says shows they just don't learn," complained Joao Sousa in a message posted yesterday to a long discussion thread on the company's website that goes back to early November. "Let's launch a crippled [Windows] 10.0 that destroys our credibility, and then fix things in 10.1 when it's too late to restore it."

In a blog post Thursday, Chris Jones, the top executive for OneDrive -- Microsoft's cloud storage service -- spelled out the 2015 release map. Placeholders, which were removed from the Windows 10 preview in November, will not make it into the first release.

"There are important capabilities that we need to bring to Windows 10 -- some will make it into the first release -- [but] others will come in updates that follow later in the calendar year -- most notably the core capabilities of placeholders that are both reliable and comprehensible, [emphasis added]", Jones wrote.

In Windows 8.1, OneDrive does not automatically place actual copies of all cloud-stored files on a device's local storage, but instead shows placeholders for those still in the cloud. When clicked, a placeholder kicks off a download to the device.

In Windows 10, OneDrive uses "selective sync," in that users choose which files are synched with actual downloads. Other files remain on OneDrive, but do not show up in File Explorer. To see everything stored in the cloud, users must instead open a browser and comb through OneDrive's online interface.

When that change was made two months ago, Windows 10 users lashed out, using a feedback thread to post hundreds of nearly-unanimously negative comments. That still-active thread currently has almost 600 posts.

Jones did not detail how placeholders would work, but he implied that, while the result may be the same, Windows 10 will handle them differently than Windows 8.1.

Jones also reiterated what Microsoft has said previously, that one of the reasons placeholders were dropped from Windows 10 was because the company was working on a more reliable single synchronization engine for both OneDrive -- the consumer-grade service -- and OneDrive for Business, the cloud storage service offered to corporate subscribers of Office 365. Currently, the two use different sync engines, and reliability across both have been an issue.

"We understand that having one sync engine ... will take time, but this is the best option to meet our core goals," Jones said.

Microsoft will release a revised iOS OneDrive app and a beta of OneDrive for Business for OS X "later this month," and will implement syncing of shared folders "by the summer," Jones added.

Jones did not reveal a date when placeholders, or rather their replacement, will reach Windows 10, saying only that it would be by the end of 2015. He asked testers to be patient.

"For those of you in the Windows Insider Program and running the Windows 10 Technical Preview, thanks for bearing with us as we make these changes," Jones said. "Be assured that we have a clear roadmap to bring the best experience we can to you between now and the end of the year."

Some were willing to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. But others had had it.

"This blog post is more than just a rehash of earlier statements. This time, they're telling us exactly why they're throwing us under the bus," said someone identified as "jim" in a comment appended to Jones' post. "And telling us to stay there because they might -- maybe -- do something to help us out, at some unspecified future date. I don't see anything here that I'd call a 'commitment' to restoring placeholders. I just see more hand-waving about delivering a great experience, and vague promises that everything will be made right, eventually."

On the discussion thread, another commenter summed it up. "Guys, stop writing anymore, really. Nobody reads these but us," griped "Onur."

That thread on Microsoft's feature feedback site had more than 9,300 "votes" for a return of placeholders as of early Friday.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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