OneDrive's new sharing funtionality is live, notifies users when files are changed

Microsoft's online storage service ups its collaboration chops in run-up to Office 2016 launch

OneDrive's web user interface

OneDrive's web user interface

Microsoft's OneDrive storage service was updated Monday to let users easily sync entire folders with other people, and add a new system of notifications to help manage what could be a burgeoning fleet of shared files.

As the company announced last week, users can now sync the contents of folders shared through OneDrive on their computers, something that previously wasn't available through the service. Now, personal and business users can use the "Add to my OneDrive" button in the service's Web interface to add a shared folder to the root of their OneDrive directory. The functionality works on Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Mac OS X. Notably, Windows 8.1 users will have to upgrade to Windows 10 if they want to sync shared folders to their computer.

This sharing feature puts OneDrive into closer competition with its peers like Google Drive and Dropbox, which already featured similar capabilities. Prior to this, OneDrive users who had a folder shared with them would have to manually download changed files in order to have revised versions available to them on their desktop.

Starting with the update, the OneDrive mobile app will now notify iOS, Android and Windows Phone users whenever someone edits a file that they shared. Like other push notifications, Apple Watch owners will get a nudge on their wrist whenever a file they shared gets updated, which can be useful when waiting for someone to tweak a key file. Getting regular notifications for frequently updated documents, however, could be more of an annoyance than a benefit.

That may be part of the reason why Microsoft will also send OneDrive users a daily summary of updates to files that they shared. Users will be able to get a quick at-a-glance review of all the people who edited different files, so they can look for both unusual behavior and keep tabs on what their collaborators are up to without a whole lot of overhead.

Finally, Microsoft extended OneDrive's search capabilities to users' shared documents, so people can find files that have been shared with them based on the content of documents like PDFs and files created in Office.

Improved sharing support is important for Microsoft, since collaborative editing is one of the key new features of its forthcoming update to Office. Called Office 2016, the major release to Microsoft's popular productivity suite includes support for working on the same document with multiple editors. In order to use the new feature, people have to store and share files through OneDrive.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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