MS Kills OneDrive 'Placeholders' for 'Selective Sync'

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Microsoft is facing a storm of protest over its decision to remove a popular feature from its OneDrive cloud storage service. The change is set to take shape when the company's next operating system, Windows 10, is released next year.

In Windows 8.1, OneDrive shows 'smart files', otherwise known as 'placeholders' stored on the cloud, but not available on a local device. If a user decides they want to view or edit that file and double click on it, OneDrive begins to download the file to local storage.

The advantage of smart files is simple: they let users view the entire contents of their OneDrive folders through File Explorer and download only those needed at a specific moment. After each file download is complete, it can be kept on a local device or sent back to OneDrive for safe keeping. This was particularly handy in scenarios where certain mobile devices (such as a tablet computer) might not have a large hard drive.

Microsoft Introduces 'Selective Sync'

Last week Microsoft announced that it would do away with placeholders in OneDrive for Windows 10. Instead, it will use a process called 'selective sync', which allows users to choose the files that will be synched with completed downloads. That means many files stored through the cloud via OneDrive will not appear in File Explorer and can only be found once a user opens an Internet browser and accesses OneDrive's online interface. (Source:

The decision has baffled many Windows users who took to Microsoft's online forums to complain about the change.

"I rely on being able to see all the files on my OneDrive through Explorer, whether they are synced locally or not; if this integration is lost there is no advantage to using OneDrive over any other cloud [product]," the post, which currently has just under 7,000 up-votes, reads. "Please add the option for power users to continue to see all files and use an icon overlay to show which are local & which [are] cloud." (Source:

Some Apps Don't Work Well with Placeholders

In response, Microsoft's Jason Moore, a group program manager working on OneDrive, said the change is actually designed to make it easier for people to use the cloud service. "We were not happy with how we built placeholders," Moore said. "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."

Moore added that the end goal is to make OneDrive more stable and reliable and that it's still not clear how the service -- including sync -- will function when Windows 10 is released next year.

But that response hasn't satisfied many of the upset users, who accused Microsoft of repeating the same mistakes they made prior to releasing Windows 8. "We all want Windows 10 to be great, so start listening to what we as so-called 'insiders' have to say. You'll thank us later," one user said.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use Microsoft OneDrive? If so, what do you primarily use OneDrive for? Are you concerned about the move away from placeholders and smart files? Are you confident that Microsoft will listen to users when designing the final build of Windows 10?

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.3 (3 votes)


Dennis Faas's picture

I'm a bit perplexed as to why Microsoft would do away with this feature. I'm sure they could remedy the situation by showing different icons to the user for any data that is offline and not accessible, and another icon for data that is accessible. If a program needs to access offline data, then have Windows pop up with a request stating "You need to go online to access this file", or such.

Stuart Berg's picture

I've had a similar issue with Google Drive. Unfortunately, it's not as controllable as Microsoft OneDrive Placeholders. I noticed that every document saved in Google Drive with a Google extension (i.e. ".gdoc" instead of ".docx"), is just a link to the document on your PC so that it's unavailable when you are not connected to the Internet. Every document with a non-Google extension is kept as the full document in Google drive AND on your PC. I wish it had the option like Placeholders.