O365 – The OneDrive’s – what’s the skinny?

Microsoft frequently confuses the world by reusing product names and/or tacking the same product name to multiple product offerings.  OneDrive is one of the stellar examples of this naming penchant as there are two OneDrive offerings – OneDrive and OneDrive for Business.  And while they are both places “in the Cloud” to put your precious stuff they are very different animals, indeed!  Oh, and let’s not forget that the OneDrive’s used to be named SkyDrive!  That had to changed after Microsoft lost a lawsuit to Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB).  So, don’t be confused if you are using “SkyDrive” and wonder what the heck “OneDrive” is or, even more confusingly, you update your system and all of a sudden SkyDrive is missing and OneDrive is in it’s place.  The underlying technology is still the same, it’s just the naming that has changed.

OK, so why are there two of them and why would you use one over the other?  Good question!

The super simple answer is that OneDrive (with no qualifier) is your personal “USB stick” in the Cloud which is yours to use as you please while OneDrive for Business is your corporate, Cloudy USB stick that is subject to corporate policies and rules.  Of course there is a lot more to it but let’s start with this definition and build out from there.

OneDrive is the free Cloud storage service that Microsoft offers to anyone that wants to sign up for it (https://ondrive.live.com).  It has no link to Office365 and there is no Office365 subscription that includes OneDrive (no qualifier).  This is an “unstructured” file storage service that you, as the individual, control.  You can build folders and share files and folder access with anyone you wish to share with, you control the security directly.  You can download the OneDrive app that will then auto-connect your local Windows Explorer with your OneDrive as highlighted below:


The OneDrive app is also available for tablets and phones.  And, of course, you can get to OneDrive on the Web:


The local OneDrive app on my PC sync’s with OneDrive so if I create a folder in OneDrive it will (eventually) show up in the OneDrive folder on my PC.  Below you will see RobzFolder that I just created in OneDrive:


And here it is having shown up locally on my PC:


And, of course, I can share files and folders out of my OneDrive with other people:


And looking into Shared I get this:


As you can probably surmise, it is pretty simple and straight forward. You can drag files into it, share them, delete them … whatever.  The key takeaway is that OneDrive is oriented towards you as the individual, there is no “Admin” hovering in the background applying restrictive policies to the account; you are firmly in the driver’s seat.

OneDrive for Business is a considerably different beast although it still can be considered your USB stick in the Cloud, albeit with many more controls imposed on how it is used.  Firstly, it is provisioned via SharePoint (in the background) through an Office365 subscription.  Because it is provisioned through SharePoint there are controls applied that are similar to the controls that you see applied in any other SharePoint library.  It also means that there are features available that have no equivalent in OneDrive, like file versioning to name just one.

You get access to OneDrive for Business from your O365 portal page:


Clicking into it brings up the following:


OK, you can see that it is the same yet very different from what you see in OneDrive as there are many more options.  The first big tipoff that this is a different beast from OneDrive is the “Browse/Files/Library” structure at the top of the screen under the Office365 logo; this is a dead giveaway that you are dealing with a SharePoint site.  You can see on the left-hand side of the screen that there are various ways for you to look into your OneDrive for Business and you can see documents that your are following, documents that have been shared with you from another person’s OneDrive for Business (Shared with Me) and other “SharePoint’y” links (Sites).  Also, note that files are referred to as “documents”, don’t let it throw you as that is just another SharePoint-ism.

Another tipoff that there is a lot more happening here is the information that is displayed to the right of a file name as well as the all important ellipses (the …).  There is nothing equivalent to this in the personal OneDriveClicking the ellipses beside one of the files reveals this:


Wow!  Then clicking the second ellipses displays this:


Again, there is a lot more going on here than in your personal OneDrive.

The folder labelled “Shared with Everyone” is there by default and anything that you put inside it is automatically shared with other member’s of your Office365 subscription group (based on overall controls set by your O365 admin); there is no equivalent of this in your personal OneDriveYou can create your own folders and share the folders with others just like you can share a file.  But the thing to remember is that sharing (security) is ultimately controlled by your O365 admin and the O365 policies that have been set by your organization.  There may be restrictions in place on who you can share with; e.g.. you may not be able to share with people outside of your organization if that is your organization’s policy.

There is also a OneDrive for Business app available for your PC that integrates with your Windows Explorer so that you can just grab from and/or drop files into your OneDrive for Business without having to open the website.  It displays in a similar fashion in Explorer to your personal OneDrive:


There app is also available for phones and tablets.

OK, so there’s the basic technical differences explained.  Now there is the question of which one to use?  The answer:  both!

I think the basic differentiator is to ask yourself, “What am I doing with this file?”.  If it is personal and has nothing to do with work or the organization that provides your O365 subscription then put the file in OneDrive.  If it is work or organization related then put it in OneDrive for Business.  I’m sure there are many more differentiators that you could apply but I think this one is pretty cut and dried.  Remember, OneDrive is yours and yours alone.  If you leave your organization and lose your O365 account your personal OneDrive is unaffected so all of your precious personal files are still there for you.

On the other hand, if the file is work related, if you need to track versions, if it needs to be very secure (amongst other things) or you need to avail yourself of any of the other SharePoint features related to the file then put it in OneDrive for Business.

In either case, your file is available to you from almost any device that can connect to the Internet.  And that is the best part of OneDrive!

UPDATE:  I was discussing all of this with Kelly in our office and we both commented that we have seen users decide that their OneDrive for Business should be the repository for critical company data that is then shared out to others in the company.  This is a bad use of  OneDrive for Business as this kind of data (with attendant security) should be in a regular SharePoint library and not tied to an individual’s drive.  Another way to view OneDrive for Business is as your “H: drive” (many companies set H: as the mapped drive for user’s “personal” storage on the file server) that just so happens to live in the Cloud.  It’s for your personal stuff that is related to work!

3 responses to “O365 – The OneDrive’s – what’s the skinny?

    1. Good point! I’ll update the post. But keep in mind that the naming on your system will change as Windows updates are applied to your system.


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