OneDrive and Dropbox Leave Google Behind with New Offline and Collaboration Features


This Week in IT, there’s an announcement about Dropbox integration with Microsoft 365 that leaves Google Drive without a major feature that’s in demand among Microsoft 365 users. Plus, Microsoft delivers on promises they made last year, bringing OneDrive web integration with the offline sync client for Chrome-based browsers.

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This Week in IT, there’s an announcement about Dropbox integration with Microsoft 365 that leaves Google Drive without a major feature that’s in demand among its Microsoft 365 users. Plus, Microsoft delivers on promises it made last year, bringing OneDrive web integration to the offline sync client for Chrome-based browsers. So stay tuned to find out the latest news.

Welcome to This Week in IT, the show where I talk about Windows, Azure and Microsoft 365. This episode is sponsored by our friends at Semperis. But before I get started today, I’ve got a quick favour to ask you. About 60% of the people that watched last week’s video weren’t subscribed to the channel. Now, as we go live today, we’re on about 5,350 subscribers. I’d really love to push that this week up to 5,450. So if you’d like to help us meet our goal, then please subscribe to the channel. And don’t forget to hit the bell notification to make sure that you don’t miss out on the latest uploads.

Now, if you’re as old as I am, you probably remember back to the days before things like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 when we didn’t have these big online productivity and collaboration platforms. And one thing that sticks in my mind is that Dropbox is one of the very first kind of online sharing services where you could upload your files, store your files there, and later, of course, came the ability to collaborate on those files with other people. I think Dropbox really became synonymous almost with file sharing, much in the same way that Google became synonymous with online search. But of course, over the years, we’ve had various other competitors come into the market and they’ve eaten away at the market share for Dropbox.

Obviously, we have things now like OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, Google Drive and various other competitors. But if you’re all in on Microsoft 365, there are some disadvantages if you don’t use OneDrive for your storage, but more on that later. Plus this week, Microsoft and Dropbox made an announcement that a new feature is coming to Dropbox that was previously exclusive, as far as I’m aware, to OneDrive. Let’s look at the announcement, first of all, from Microsoft and Dropbox. Now, this centers around real-time collaboration and co-authoring.

And according to Dropbox, it’s really in big demand amongst its users that also use Microsoft 365. Now, there are some alternatives to OneDrive that also support co-authoring, but only in the Microsoft 365 web apps. And until today, that included things like Dropbox itself, as far as I’m aware, Box and some other alternatives. So real-time collaboration and co-authoring are important, even if you don’t work with your colleagues on documents at the same time very often, because it just provides a much smoother experience, allowing you to work, for instance, in Word or Excel, the desktop apps, and you don’t have to worry about having to periodically synchronize that information to the cloud. It just happens and it’s a very smooth experience.

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Dropbox announced this week that it’s bringing that real-time collaboration and co-authoring experience for Dropbox users that are working with Microsoft 365, not just in the web applications, but to mobile and the Office desktop apps. They also said that experience is also coming directly to Dropbox itself, so if you edit a document within Dropbox. They also went further and said that Co-pilot for Microsoft 365 is getting integration with Dropbox, so you’ll be able to run searches against any documents that you have stored in Dropbox.

They also announced there’s going to be a new integration with Dropbox Replay. Now this is a piece of software inside Dropbox that enables teams to basically review and work on media files together. Now this new feature is called Dropbox Relay for OneDrive, so now you’ll be able to bring media stored in OneDrive into that replay solution. Let’s talk a little bit about OneDrive itself. Now back in November there was a big update to the web clients and Microsoft promised that with that update that we’d be getting support for offline files with the web client, but that didn’t release in November and this week Microsoft announced that that is gradually rolling out to users right now. So what does it mean exactly?

So if you have a work or school account, so you’re a commercial customer, you’ll get in support for offline access with the web clients. Now how does this work exactly? In order to use it, you need to have a Chrome based browser and you need to have the latest sync client for OneDrive installed on your device. Now I’m not sure whether this works on macOS at this stage, but definitely of course it works with Windows. If you meet those two requirements, there are a couple of things that you’ll be able to do.

Now first of all, Microsoft is saying that not only does this give you offline access to files from the web client, but it also makes any access to files while you’re actually online faster, because now the systems, whether it’s OneDrive the web client or whether it’s OneDrive in Teams, is able to pull documents from your local cached versions of those documents rather than having to pull them directly from the cloud. And Microsoft is saying that this will give free times a better performance when you’re working online in Teams or the OneDrive web clients.

Now you’ll also of course get this offline access when you’re using the web client, but there are some limitations to it. So this doesn’t work for consumers at this stage. As I said before, it’s work and school accounts only. You have to have a OneDrive that contains less than 250 files. It doesn’t support shortcuts to shared folders in OneDrive. There’s no co-pilot search or file version history support,(…) and you can’t manage access or delete a file while you’re offline. So there are a few limitations there, or more than a few, but they all sound relatively reasonable.

And I think that this is going to be a great bonus for people who really need that offline access in the web client. These updates that Microsoft and Dropbox have announced this week, they bring improvements for everybody as far as I’m concerned, regardless of whether you regularly collaborate with other people in your team, regardless of whether you need offline access or not. These technologies really are the core of making all of this a seamless and usable system that really just works without all of these syncing issues that you get with applications like OneNote. And that’s actually one of the reasons why I’ve moved over to Loop, because it includes all of this real-time collaboration and co-authoring. So you’re doing away with that horrible sync system that OneDrive relies on. This update will bring Dropbox much closer to OneDrive for business in terms of feature parity. So that’s interesting. And it’ll put Dropbox ahead of other providers like Box and Citrix Sharefile, which only have support for co-authoring in the web applications.

And it’s interesting in their documentation, I don’t use Google Drive, but Microsoft is very clearly saying that we do not support real-time collaboration or co-authoring in Google Drive in any way whatsoever. So it’s interesting, is that a technology limitation with Google Drive? Or is it a business decision because Microsoft wants to keep Google with very limited integration in Microsoft 365?(…) I don’t know. But if I were looking for a storage solution and I’m all in on Microsoft 365, to be honest, depending on the kind of business that you have, probably OneDrive for business is going to be what I would recommend, unless you need something very specific that OneDrive doesn’t support.

For instance, the replay feature in Dropbox is really good for companies that need to do a lot of collaboration on media files, and you don’t have that ability in OneDrive today. So it does depend on what you need to do exactly. Let me know what you think in the comments below about real-time collaboration and co-authoring and offline access. Are they things that you really need, even if the technology behind them is improving the overall experience?

I know a lot of people are really specific on having offline access, but at the end of the day, most of us are connected most of the time. So how important is offline access? Really, let me know what you think in the comments.

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