OneDrive Files On-Demand is in Insider testing now. Files can now be:

  1. Online-only
  2. Locally available
  3. Always available

It's the second and third file states that users will have difficulty differentiating between. At least one of them is an unnecessary state, and possibly even both.

So what's the difference between the two?

Locally available files

When you open an online-only file, it downloads to your device and becomes a locally available file. You can open a locally available file anytime, even without Internet access. If you need more space, you can change the file back to online-only. Just right-click the file and select “Free up space.”

Always available files

Only files that you mark as “Always keep on this device” have the green circle with the white check mark. These files will always be available even when you’re offline. They are downloaded to your device and take up space.

Both use the same icon but with a different coloured circle and check mark. Locally available files have a white circle with a green check, whereas always available files the inverse.

Firstly, I don't see how a check mark can be interpreted as a file that lives on your machine when all your files outside of OneDrive have no such visual cue. Secondly, expecting users to know the difference between two icons that are the same but only have their colours flipped is pretty optimistic; this move, to me, suggests no conventional usability testing, that is non-Insider testing, has been carried out. But neither of these points matter as much as the third and final point: Microsoft has over-engineered the design due to a misreading of the requirements.

It isn't that complicated. It's actually simple. Files are either online or offline. For an online file, the cloud icon works. When you open it, any local changes should be pushed to the cloud and once you've finished working on it the local copy should get deleted (or maybe have it cached for a limited time for instant re-retrieval in the not unlikely case you decide to reopen the file). It's worth remembering the On-Demand feature's aim is to save you hard disk space, but it appears opening an online file is taken as an implicit signal to make it available offline permanently. I don't think this is a smart assumption and it's better to leave this to the user to set explicitly. This simplified design means OneDrive files available offline look the same as local files not stored in the cloud. All you really need to know as a user is whether a file is online-only. Anything more is counter-intuitive.

Friday, June 16 - 1:15 am


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