Getting Started With the Microsoft Ecosystem – Part II (OneDrive Edition)

In Part I of this guide I showed you how to get started in the Microsoft Ecosystem with that shiny new PC and an email. I mentioned how I chose to use OneDrive as my local and cloud storage solution built right into Windows. For this part I will dive a little deeper into the possibilities of OneDrive and how it works to access files from anywhere, share with friends/family, protect against ransomware, save space as well as add extra security for important documents. Stick with me here, it’s a long post but like zone defense I’ve got a lot of area to cover!

Getting Started

When I first click on the “OneDrive” Icon in file explorer I will see all the files and folders that exist in my OneDrive. You can see the default ones listed below as well as a Status icon which tells me which files are both local AND in OneDrive as well as those only in OneDrive (The cloud icon). You will also see the icon for “Personal Vault” which is a unique built-in folder that offers even more protection for sensitive documents. More on that later.

Shows the OneDrive Home Folder
The OneDrive Folder

The Documents, Pictures, and Desktop folders all correspond to those same folders locally since I told Windows I wanted to use OneDrive for my known file locations. You can create additional folders in OneDrive at this root level if you so desire, but it may be worth keeping those organized in the Documents folder to avoid confusion – as well as to be able to see them more easily in your “My Documents” folder.

Shows How Much Space is Left on OneDrive
OneDrive Space

The only oddity I have found with this is that “Videos” and “Music” folders are NOT backed up as part of the Documents. It could be because of the size those files could be, but that is a caveat to be noted in case you have some family videos stored in “Videos”. You can manually copy them to OneDrive but they aren’t included as part of the default.

While setting up OneDrive for the first time you will be given 5GB of free space and that is upgradable to 100GB for only $1.99/month or the even better deal of 1TB being offered if you subscribe to Office/Microsoft 365 plans which start at $69.99 a year and give you access to the Office Apps on all devices.

Work from Anywhere

Once you have files in OneDrive this is where it makes it very easy to view and work on those files ANYWHERE you have an internet connection. Microsoft makes a really good OneDrive app for mobile devices, as well as a nice clean web interface for managing on any OS even if its not Windows. If there is a particular project you are working on, say “SysAdminBits Quarterly Review”, you can setup that folder to sync on your desktop, laptop or phone so that all files in that folder are available. See below for how I told Windows I always want to keep this folder on my device and note how the status column changes to a solid green with white checkmark to indicate that.

Example of Documents

I can follow the same method on my mobile device(s) as well so that anytime I add a file to that folder it will show up on any device. I can even view this directly on the website and edit any Office documents directly within the browser. The changes are then almost immediately synced with my phone and PC!

Editing a document in OneDrive
Editing in the browser

Sharing

As mentioned above, OneDrive is a great way to share files and folders with family, friends, or even John Q Public if you so desired. Share links are built right into Windows Explorer, the website, the mobile app or even the Office Programs themselves. You may share a folder and anything in it, or an individual file. In the example below I share a file to a specific person with editing rights. Other options available include setting an expiration date on the link (Premium), setting a password on the file (Premium), turning off editing, as well as just using the copy link button to send a link to anyone or everyone (please exercise caution 😊)

OneDrive Sharing

Malware Protection

OneDrive also protects against Malware, or even human caused error by creating version history of the files in OneDrive. Deleted files are restorable for up to 30 days for consumer accounts as long as you have the space available. File versions can go back 25(!) versions for consumer accounts. With a premium account you get even more protection where OneDrive can even alert you to a ransomware infection and give you steps to recover.

Let’s pretend my blog post from above were to become encrypted by ransomware rendering the contents illegible.

“Encrypted” File

In this case I could easily Right Click on the file and restore it to a previous time (as shown below).

Previous Version

Save Some of that Space

OneDrive can also help you save space by only downloading items when you work on them (remember the status column?). For instance, if you get a brand new laptop you don’t have to wait for all the files to sync, nor do you have to sync all the files to the new laptop. Depending on what you are doing you may want to, just like I set the folder above to ALWAYS download on this device. The default out of the box configuration is to download files as you use them which is key to remember if you will be working offline.

For some people (myself included) the space given on OneDrive is bigger than the space of many laptop drives. If I know I will be offline for an extended time I usually sync my working folders or files down to that device for use later.  Sometimes over time I will have synced a ton of files down to the laptop and it starts filling up. Well Microsoft has a solution to that called “Free Up Space” which will delete all the offline copies of your files (EVEN THE ONES YOU MARKED AS ALWAYS AVAILABLE). You can see this in the video clip below as all my green checks become clouds indicating the files are only in the cloud.

Free Up Space

The Vault

Lastly a newer feature of OneDrive is called Personal Vault. OneDrive includes a handy Getting started feature below that helps you configure the additional security as well as suggestions on what to put in the vault. They have a huge post with detailed instructions as well as an FAQ listed here.

Personal Vault

The long and short of it is the space is an extra secure area of OneDrive that will “lock” after a user-configurable set of time from 20 minutes to 4 hours (20 minute default). Once the vault locks it will require your password to unlock it, an emailed code or even better a Multifactor Authentication notification. You may store any folders or items in there just as you would any other OneDrive folder, however with the free account you can only store up to 3 items in the vault. I have uploaded a sample Driver’s license to show what it looks like. As you can see it really is just another JPG file with the only exception being the extra security required to get to it.

Inside OneDrive's Personal Vault
Inside the Vault

 

I hope this has helped you in your journey towards OneDrive and as a further exploration of “Getting Started with the Microsoft Ecosystem”. The OneDrive mobile app also adds the ability to backup your mobile device photos automatically, enabling the Photos application to see everything synced from your phone to OneDrive. If you are using OneDrive, and you have 1TB of space there is no downside in adding additional backup to your mobile photos.

In the final part of this guide I will look deeper at Microsoft Edge and the latest features surrounding Microsoft Accounts.

Chris

I have been a System Administrator for 15 years now. I have been an avid Microsoft fan for over 20. From my first 486 with Windows 3.0 to my latest custom rig with Windows 10. I have gone from tinkering, to programming, to managing servers, and virtualization.

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