SharePoint Online is supposed to be this awesome, cloud-based solution that lets your whole organization access shared documents in a central, online location, negating the need for expensive racks full of servers with expensive licenses and expensive SharePoint administrators and developers to maintain the system. And SharePoint Online fills this role admirably. I'm still amazed that, with Office 365, you can now get for a few dollars per month per user what used to cost tens of thousands of dollars to run on premises. The problem is reliably accessing those files. Many people (myself included) have been confounded by Microsoft's apparent lack of ability to crack this nut. Dropbox and Box.net seem to have figured out robust sync tools. Heck, even Apple has managed to get iCloud to work reliably. And Microsoft's own OneDrive app works fantastically! You can only sync what you want, and it never seems to crash or run into duplicate file conflicts. Microsoft’s OneDrive (not to be confused with OneDrive for Business!) is the gold standard for cloud storage with rock-solid apps to sync those files across all your devices; PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, etc.
Apparently, Microsoft has been thinking along the same lines and has now added SharePoint Online synchronization to the OneDrive sync tool. And the world rejoices!
The files will then start downloading to your computer, and version tracking will begin. You’ll have a copy of each file sitting both in SharePoint and on your hard drive. If you edit the document in either location, the change will synchronize across to all other copies. Clever stuff!
Further good news, the new sync tool will automatically replace the old groove.exe sync and take over for it. Good riddance! The OneDrive sync will even take over where groove.exe left off without requiring you to re-download all your content (something us beta testers had to endure… but it was so worth it!)
As exciting as this news is, there are still some issues with SharePoint Online in general, and specifically with SharePoint sync. We still have the old “maximum 5,000 items per document library” limit. I believe Microsoft are working on rectifying this, and while 5,000 items sound like a lot, it’s easy to exceed that limit in a shared file storage container. There are also the old “invalid characters in filename” restrictions, most famously the “#” and “&” symbols. That’s because SharePoint Online uses standard web URLs for filenames, and those characters are reserved for special functions in URLs. I know the Office 365 dev team are currently working on a workaround for this.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that synchronized Document Libraries take up space on your hard drive! If you have a modern tablet with only 128 GB SSD for internal storage, it would be all too easy to accidentally fill it up when somebody else dumps a ton of large files into a Document Library that is synchronizing to your PC or Mac. Just keep that in mind!
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