Get ready for the OneDrive mess coming for Mac users

OneDrive and other cloud storage providers are dealing with a change in the Mac operating system and the result is a mess with a lot of confusion for customers.

The result is a mixture of versions and features depending on what macOS version you’re using. The documentation from Microsoft doesn’t help a lot I’m afraid, it’s too full of detail and hype.

The main change is to Files On Demand, the ability to have a placeholder file only (to save space) and download the complete file on request.  Files on Demand appears on the right-click menu as the options:

  • Always Keep on This Device
  • Free Up Space

Why is this happening?

Apple is changing one of their core technologies and dropping the older system (in nerd speak, the legacy technology is being deprecated).

That means cloud storage providers like OneDrive, Dropbox and others have to remake their software which relied on the older tech. 

In the end, the change should be a good thing because new features can be added like Known Folder Move.  KFM means that common Mac folders like Documents, Downloads and Pictures become OneDrive synced folders without changing the look in Finder.

Source: Microsoft

Under the new regime, OneDrive will be able to sync more file details than in the past:

  • File tags
  • Last used date
  • File system flags
  • Extended attributes
  • Type and creator code

Symlinks are preserved, in a plain text form. Mac Packages sync properly.  Proper support for Unlink, Unmount, and Reseting drives.

Who is affected?

All these changes only apply to the latest macOS v12, Monterey.  If you have Big Sur v11 or earlier, don’t worry.

At the time of writing, the current MacOS release is v12.2, mostly likely that’s what you have. This is the last version which supports the old technology.

The new Files On Demand system requires at least macOS v12.1 or later.

The changed system requires the APFS file system which Apple has been using for some years.  The older HFS+ drive format is not supported.  Most Monterey users will have APFS.  Use the Disk Utility to check, look for the magic letters ‘APFS’.

What happens?

The new OneDrive is rolling out now for macOS 12.1 and later.

From the next update v12.3 the new technology and OneDrive Files on Demand system is required.

OneDrive will change to the new Files On Demand system when the macOS update is installed. The only way to stop OneDrive changing is to stop the macOS update.

The two key changes are:

  • Files On Demand will be on for all users and can’t be disabled.
    • But you can mark whole folders (all folders) as “Always Keep on this Device” or “Free up Space”
  • The sync root folder moves to ~/Library/CloudStorage/OneDrive-Personal and can’t be changed. 
    • Up to now, users could change the root folder location.
    • This location is usually hidden from users.  OneDrive files are visible in Finder in the usual way.

What to do?

Hopefully the changeover will be smooth and trouble free. If you have a standard macOS setup with a single drive and no special apps or settings, all should be OK.

We’re always wary of major changes in software.  Some precautions are prudent, our suggestions:

  • Update to macOS v12.3 at some idle or downtime.  Don’t do it in the middle of an important job, just in case there’s a problem.
  • Update with a stable Internet connection.
  • Ideally do the macOS update at the end of the day and leave your Mac on overnight to give OneDrive a chance to update all the files and settings.
  • Backup before switching.  Happily there’s already one or two backups in place.
    • OneDrive saves all deleted and changed files for 30 days.
    • Apple TimeMachine, if enabled, also has a copy of current and past files.
    • If you wanted to be very sure, make a separate copy of all your files, especially those in OneDrive storage.

The main issue isn’t data loss, it’s changes in the way folders appear in Finder.

How do I know the change has happened?

For all the detailed info Microsoft has provided, they haven’t given users a simple way to check if the new Files on Demand etc system is running or the old method is still in place.  Either is possible in Monterey v12.1 or 12.2.

The only clue is that you might be asked to confirm sync permission for the revised OneDrive app.

After the change it might seem that all your files are being downloaded again. According to Microsoft that’s an “illusion”, just a consequence of the change in root folder location and updating macOS.

Finder favorites to OneDrive locations are removed. That’s because the underlying folder location has changed. You’ll have to recreate your favorites.

If you want all your OneDrive files synced to the local drive, assuming there’s enough space on the drive.  Go to OneDrive in Finder, change to Icons view, right-click the blank space between icons. Finally select Always Keep on This Device.

Source: Microsoft

The changeover is messy but before complaining to Microsoft, keep in mind that Apple has forced this update to OneDrive. Other cloud storage providers like Dropbox are also coping with this macOS change.

Microsoft has provided a lot of details in this long blog post and especially the Postscript which answered the many customer questions.  We’d like to see a simple way users can tell which OneDrive system is running, in other words, how to tell if the major change has happened.

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