sharepoint sync client

The New (Long-Awaited) SharePoint Sync Client

The wait is finally over!
As a big SharePoint fan (I got beaten up a lot as a kid) it's always made sad at how woefully inadequate the SharePoint sync client has been. It has been impossible to synchronize SharePoint Online Document Libraries on Mac computers because no MacOS SharePoint sync app existed, and the app that has been available for Windows wasn't much more useful than the Mac option. Technically, you can synchronize a Document Library from SharePoint Online to your local PC... but heaven help you if you wanted to put any actual documents in there. I've written several blog posts about this before and even shown you my hacked work-around for mounting a SharePoint Document Library as a network drive, which is most certainly not the same as syncing because you must be online to access your files... But at least it doesn't crash regularly enough to set your watch by it. The culprit has been the underlying executable, groove.exe, which is more like a rut than a groove (can you tell I'm bitter?) and is ancient technology that is also, apparently, averse to synchronizing files.
 

The Accessibility Problem, Solved.

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!

 

OneDrive vs OneDrive for Business Demystified

I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog post for a long time. I’d heard rumors over a year ago about the upcoming refreshed sync tool. It was slated to release last fall, but now it’s finally here. And instead of trying to reinvent the wheel by creating a new sync client specifically for SharePoint, they just added SharePoint support to the existing OneDrive sync tool, a trick Microsoft pulled off last year when they deprecated the OneDrive for Business sync tool (also groove.exe, gah!) and merged its sync with OneDrive.

Side note: If all this “OneDrive vs. OneDrive for Business” talk is confusing, you’re not alone. Just remember this: OneDrive for Business is tied to your Office 365 account, and comes bundled with 1 TB of space. OneDrive (for pleasure!) is tied to a Microsoft Live account (Outlook.com, Hotmail.com, etc.) and comes with only 5 GB of space, but you can purchase more for a monthly fee.

And now, just like OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online’s offline sync functionality has been merged with OneDrive, gaining its great feature set: cross-platform support on PC and Mac, folder-level granularity for sync, and a rock-solid sync engine.

If you’re keeping score at home, yes, OneDrive now synchronizes three different services to your local computer. Maybe they should make it more confusing and call it ThreeDrive? It doesn’t matter… IT WORKS!
 

Get It Working for Your Company

Because this is brand new functionality, you’ll have to have your Office 365 administrator enable this new sync feature in your Office 365 tenancy. Enabling it isn’t hard to do, but I recommend the administrator test it out, first. Instructions can be found here, but it just requires changing one setting in the SharePoint Administration Dashboard’s settings.

Once this has been enabled, you can navigate to any Document Library in SharePoint Online, or any folder within a Document Library and click the sync button at the top of the screen.

sharepoint sync client sync window

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!)
 

All That Glitters – is Still Not Perfect.

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!
 

Our Clients Get It

Bit-Wizards will be enabling this functionality for our Managed IT Services clients. We are certified Office 365 professionals and cloud specialists. Get in touch if you need some help with SharePoint in your organization.
 

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Author

Samuel O. Blowes, Director of IT
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of IT

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