Untangle OneDrive and SharePoint integration in Office 365

Microsoft has added SharePoint support to its OneDrive apps, but differences across Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android might confuse you

Untangle OneDrive and SharePoint integration in Office 365
David J. Fred (CC BY-SA 2.5)

The good news: Microsoft has finally brought SharePoint file synchronization to OneDrive. The bad news: Some details may confuse you and your users about how it all works.

Businesses have very different approaches to data sharing among users: Some love the idea of a single portal to shared files, while others hate it. Plus, SharePoint can be more than a project file repository (it’s also meant to support discussions and workflow via project websites), and other value becomes invisible when accessed via OneDrive.

Microsoft’s goal is to consolidate its various file managers into one, says Seth Patton, Microsoft’s general manager for OneDrive and SharePoint. That way, OneDrive and SharePoint stores are treated the same as network and local drives for both the operating system and applications. That’s exactly the right goal.

But a few differences from platform to platform can confuse both IT and users to taking full advantage of Office 365’s new all-in-one OneDrive. Thus, I spent time with Patton to figure out the details so that you know how to take advantage of the unified file access in Office 365. (No matter what combination of platforms you use, remember you have to configure Office 365 to allow OneDrive to sync SharePoint files.)


Windows’ File Explorer provides native sync access to both corporate and personal OneDrive files, so they’re simply part of the standard Windows file system. The updated OneDrive for Business client (formerly known as Groove.exe) extends that syncing to SharePoint. In Windows 10, the client will auto-update when users access OneDrive for Business files, though admins can also manage its rollout instead of that automatic updating. In previous Windows versions, IT or users need to update the client.

Windows is the easiest case: Enable SharePoint syncing for OneDrive in your Office 365 console and update OneDrive on your clients, then your users can sync files for whatever accounts they have.

You can also use OneDrive app from the Windows Store to sync SharePoint, corporate OneDrive, and personal OneDrive files. The use of the app instead of (or in addition to) the File Explorer provides a familiar user experience for those who also use OneDrive on other platforms. I also find the OneDrive app much easier to use than the extremely dated File Explorer interface.

They can also use the separate SharePoint Online and the separate corporate and personal OneDrive Online services in their browsers to access SharePoint and OneDrive files, respectively—or just use OneDrive Online for both OneDrive and SharePoint files. (Typically, the online services are for meant for use when on someone else’s computer.)


On the Mac, it seems more complicated than it really is. That’s because Microsoft called its updated OneDrive client OneDrive for Business, an app it retired a year ago when it merged the previously separate OneDrive and OneDrive for Business services.

But there is no OneDrive for Business app for the Mac, despite what Microsoft’s press releases said last week and the term Microsoft’s documentation uses. What exists is the OneDrive app, and the latest version lets you sync SharePoint files as well as personal and corporate OneDrive ones. What matters is that you have the current version of OneDrive on your Mac to get the new SharePoint file support.

Another point of possible confusion: Microsoft offers the OneDrive app both from the Mac App Store and through direct download; they are the same app as each other and as the OneDrive for Business app. But Patton suggests that enterprises deploy OneDrive through one of the direct-download versions because they use the same update service as the rest of Microsoft’s Office 365 tools, which he says will make management easier and more consistent for IT than using the Mac App Store-delivered version. If users have the Mac App Store client, they should uninstall it before you provision the direct-download version, he advises.


The options in iOS are also simple, but the act that there are both OneDrive and SharePoint apps may confuse you. The current OneDrive app available at the App Store syncs both corporate and personal OneDrive files, as well as SharePoint files. What’s easy to overlook is that the SharePoint files in the OneDrive app are available in the Sites tab, not in the Files tab where OneDrive files reside. Thus, the files aren’t unified in a common hierarchy, even if they are available in the same app.

iOS users can also access personal OneDrive, corporate OneDrive, and SharePoint files via an Office 2016 app, the iOS Locations service (a virtual file service for cloud storage systems that apps can use top open files directly from), or in OneDrive Online (where the capabilities are limited outside Microsoft’s Windows browsers) via their browser. (SharePoint Online also provides access to SharePoint files via sites, but not to OneDrive files.)

Microsoft does have the SharePoint app for iOS, which also provides access to SharePoint files, via the SharePoint sites it presents. But the OneDrive app is where you get both OneDrive and SharePoint files.

That division in focus—OneDrive on files and SharePoint on sites—is intentional, Patton says, reflecting the specialty focus for apps that works well in mobile, versus the suite approach more common on big-screen desktops. (Sadly, in a really dumb move, the SharePoint app delivers desktop-designed sites that are incredibly hard to navigate and use from a smartphone.)


Android users have the exact same options as iOS users: The OneDrive app available at the Play Store syncs both corporate and personal OneDrive files, as well as SharePoint ones.

Users can also use Office 2016 and OneDrive Online to access their Microsoft-managed cloud files, as well as SharePoint Online for site-based access to SharePoint documents only. As with iOS, the separate SharePoint app provides access to desktop SharePoint sites and their files, but not to OneDrive files.

Android Nougat on some devices includes an app called Files that also can access OneDrive-managed files from personal OneDrive, corporate OneDrive, and SharePoint. But you can’t access OneDrive files from the Android file manager (which provides apps access to locally stored files).

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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