Yesterday was a double-whammy for Microsoft’s PR department. In trying to make changes to their cloud storage service to make it more profitable, the company managed to tick off almost every Office 365 fan they had on the internet. The changes to Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage offerings also impact almost every product they currently make and sell to the public, including their mobile phones and the Windows Phone ecosystem, Surface products, Windows in general, and Office 365 in particular. Hit the jump for a summary of what went down.
In a blog post on the OneDrive site, the team announced a number of changes that alter the value proposition for Office 365, a subscription service that Microsoft sells for their Office suite which comes with some useful additions for other services that the company offers. The OneDrive team announced that as of yesterday, 3 November 2015, they’ll no longer be offering unlimited storage space as part of the Office 365 package, taking it away instead to punish a small subset of users who apparently abused the service. Microsoft’s reasons were that some users uploaded in excess of 75TB (terabytes) of data to their cloud storage servers, which mainly consisted of home movie collections and DVR recordings (so, video in general).
As of today, Office 365 users have an upper limit of 1TB of storage space to make use of, and that’s it. Anyone currently over that limit has a year to figure out where they’re going to hoard all the data that they uploaded to the OneDrive servers.
In addition, there’ll no longer be paid 100GB and 200GB storage tiers for OneDrive, as Microsoft wanted to move away from users storing large amounts of data on their servers. These will be replaced instead with a 50GB storage option for $1.99 per month. The free option of 15GB for users of OneDrive or Outlook/Hotmail with Microsoft accounts also falls away, reduced to just 5GB of free storage space (Google Drive offers 15GB by comparison). If you’re currently over 5GB on your OneDrive free storage, you can claim a free one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal to boost your limit up to 1TB. But you have to give Microsoft your credit card to get that deal, and you have to pay for that subscription once the free period is up.
In a vacuum, this announcement isn’t too damaging for the Office 365 service. Microsoft never actually intended to offer unlimited storage space to their customers (heck, they can’t even do that for business users), and the OneDrive service is currently slower than snails stampeding through peanut butter. The sync engine with Windows 8 and Windows 10 is horribly slow and prone to errors, and the only client that actually works perfectly well with it is the one that was bundled with Windows 7. Not having unlimited storage as their core product’s promise might ease up the restrictions set by the development team, making the service faster and more reliable.
But when you look at Microsoft’s offerings as a whole, things don’t add up. Dropping the free 15GB of storage to just 5GB means that anyone who bought a Lumia device recently and makes use of the photo backup feature to OneDrive is going to have to either turn off that feature, or get a sync client that puts those photos elsewhere, unless they want that Office 365 Personal offer. If you’ve recently upgraded to Windows 10 and signed in with a Microsoft account from the start, congratulations! OneDrive synced up your camera roll if you accepted the defaults, and now all the pictures on your PC in the Pictures library contribute to filling up that 5GB of storage.
With an upper limit of 1TB, is the highest offering for OneDrive still attractive compared to Microsoft’s competitors? It depends if you wanted to use Office and Skype in the first place. Amazon’s Unlimited offering still applies at $60 per year. Dropbox’s service is vastly better than OneDrive’s sync client, but costs the same. Backblaze’s service is cheaper than anyone else, but doesn’t integrate into many other applications. If you’re technically inclined and have a good ISP and a personal NAS or cheap hosted storage elsewhere, you can also use BitTorrent Sync to create your own Dropbox-like service for free. You can secure it better, too. There’s also Syncthing as well.
In reality, Microsoft’s decisions to change OneDrive’s offerings will cause a significant drop-off in users who only signed up for the promise of unlimited storage and near-universal device support, causing users to migrate to some of the other solutions listed here. I don’t think that Microsoft will be able to build up the goodwill it had before the announcement, even if they relent and leave things as they are.
Further reading: OneDrive storage petition