The long, promising (and frustrating) history of Microsoft’s consumer file sync services

Live Drive, SDrive, Project M, Folders, FolderShare, Windows Live Sync, Live Mesh, SkyDrive, OneDrive. Yes, Microsoft has been at this file syncing game for a long time. The company bought FolderShare back in November of 2005, and has been trying to get file syncing right ever since. This past week users were all in a huff because the latest build of Windows 10 Tech Preview changed the way OneDrive works on Windows 10, so much so that Microsoft took the time to respond publicly. Ed Bott posted on the issue late last week, documenting the flurry that’s been happening on UserVoice:

In a response to that same UserVoice page, OneDrive group program manager Jason Moore says:

“We hear the feedback on placeholders, and we agree that there many great things about the model – for example, being able to see all your files in the cloud even if they are not all sync’ed to your PC. However, we were not happy with how we built placeholders, and we got clear feedback that some customers were confused (for example, with files not being available when offline), and that some applications didn’t work well with placeholders and that sync reliability was not where we needed it to be.

So, we stepped back to take a fresh look at OneDrive in Windows. The changes we made are significant. We didn’t just “turn off” placeholders – we’re making fundamental improvements to how Sync works, focusing on reliability in all scenarios…”

In other words: “Sorry, we’re still working on this feature.”

While the changes have upset a number of users, it’s still early on in Windows 10’s development, and from the sounds of it some, if not all of the features missing from build 9879 may be back. But for longtime Microsoft enthusiasts, this isn’t anything new. In fact, it would be far more surprising if Microsoft *didn’t* change its file syncing services than if it did. It’s been an interesting journey, this wavering path toward file syncing Nirvana, and as one user back in 2008 said, “the grand vision of (Microsoft’s file syncing services) are unfortunately more vision than grand”.

Microsoft’s first well known foray into file syncing probably came to them when they acquired Ray Ozzie’s Groove Networks in March of 2005, and then FolderShare later that year. After rewriting FolderShare to work on Windows Server from its Linux roots, Microsoft released Windows Live FolderShare in 2008. About the same time, Microsoft also released a technology preview of Live Mesh. Live Mesh, a Ray Ozzie project, was based on FeedSync technology, a superset of RSS, allowing file syncing across devices and a cloud client. We posted on the history and naming gyrations of Live Mesh, back in 2010.

But Live Mesh, like the recent builds of OneDrive, had its problems. Shortly after our incantation of the history of Live Mesh, Ray Ozzie left Microsoft. Live Mesh was combined with Foldershare and released as “Windows Live Sync”, a beta, in June of 2010, and shortly after that was renamed again, to Windows Live Mesh, in August of 2010. But then in 2012, Microsoft consolidated Live Mesh with SkyDrive, another file syncing service that had been around since 2007. Just like with the recent OneDrive snafu, users lost much of the peripheral functionality of Live Mesh, including PC to PC (with no cloud interaction) sync, remote desktop, and settings sync for IE and Office. They weren’t happy then, either.

And now Microsoft is pulling back on features, again. Makes you wonder why they don’t just buy Dropbox and be done with it! What do you think, are you hopeful for OneDrive in Windows 10? Will Microsoft finally get file syncing right?