Cloud Backup for Writers, Part 3: Using OneDrive

Several weeks ago, I began a series of articles on how writers, many of whom are not naturally technologically adept, could easily put into practice good backup procedures for their valuable documents by using cloud storage. We know we need to make backup copies of our writing files, but we don’t always know the best way to do it, and we don’t want it to be difficult and time-consuming. Right?

In “Cloud Backup: A Brief Primer for the Practicing Writer,” I explained why I think cloud storage is a safe, reliable backup method that writers can easily put into practice. Next, in “Cloud Backup for Writers, Part 2: Using Dropbox,” I showed how you can set up and use Dropbox as an automated backup system for your important writing files. (As a bonus, I also wrote about “When to Use ‘Backup’ vs. ‘Back Up’” for all the grammar geeks out there.)

Microsoft OneDrive logoUp now is a walkthrough of using Microsoft’s OneDrive for automated backup. The delay in getting to this one is a result of Microsoft’s change in its service from SkyDrive to OneDrive, which was announced just as I started on my series. The service is basically the same with a new name, although I guess there are some new incentives built in for extra free storage. The switch to the new name is mostly less complete at this point. 

Because OneDrive is a Microsoft service, it’s a great choice if you already use other Microsoft products or services, such as Word or other Office suite programs. In the Office 2013 versions of each of these programs, OneDrive is integrated into the Save menu as the default save location, which means if you have a OneDrive account, it couldn’t be easier. OneDrive is also part of the Office 365 Home Premium subscription, if you choose that route, which gives you an extra 20 GB of OneDrive storage. This is added to the basic free storage of 7 GB (compare to Dropbox, which provides 2 GB).

Setting Up OneDrive

The first thing to note about using OneDrive is that if you’re on Windows 8.1 (or later, presumably, although this is the latest version as of this writing), the OneDrive app comes standard—built in, basically. If you haven’t used SkyDrive or OneDrive previously, you’ll still need to set up your account on the OneDrive website, however. On any other operating system—any older version of Windows, Mac OS, or whatever else you might use—you’ll want to install the OneDrive app after you set up an account.

To get started, go to the OneDrive website and click Sign Up. The sign up process has you create a Microsoft account if you don’t already have one. This account is the same as you would use to sign in to Xbox Live, for instance. (You also need a Microsoft account to sign in to a Windows 8 PC, which has caused a bit of controversy.) As is to be expected, this account creation requires an email address, although you can create a new email (for free) during the process, which will be an address (formerly Hotmail).

When you’ve established your account and signed in, you’ll be on the OneDrive website. You can use OneDrive through the web portal, uploading and downloading documents as needed, but the benefits of automated backup for your files come from using the app on your computer. If you don’t have it installed, follow the directions to download it now. You can also install the app to secondary computers you use for consistent storage access across all your devices. From the main OneDrive web page, click Get OneDrive apps in the lower left corner to go to the download page.

In many ways, OneDrive works the same as Dropbox, so if you read my post on setting up backup up with that service, some of this might sound redundant. After you’ve installed the OneDrive app, it enters setup mode automatically and shows you a welcome screen.

1. Click Get Started to go to the Sign In screen:

The Sign In screen during OneDrive setup.

The Sign In screen during OneDrive setup.

2. Enter the email address and password for your Microsoft account, then click Sign In.

After OneDrive authenticates your credentials, you’ll see the following screen, which shows you where your new OneDrive folder is located:

Choose the location where you want your OneDrive folder created.

Choose the location where you want your OneDrive folder created.

By default, the folder is located at C:\Users\<name>\OneDrive, where <name> is the username on your computer. Just as we did with Dropbox, we want to be sure this folder is in a location where it’s easy to locate as your standard save location. So if you would typically save your writing files in the Documents folder, for instance, you might want to put the OneDrive folder there.

3. Click Change, then navigate to the location where you want the OneDrive folder created. (If you’re using Office 2013, you can skip this step because OneDrive—wherever it’s created—is the default save location for documents; that is, when you select Save on a new document, the Save dialog box automatically suggests OneDrive as the location for you to save the document.)

4. Click Next, and you’ll go to the Sync screen:

Choose to sync all or only some of the items in your OneDrive folder.

Choose to sync all or only some of the items in your OneDrive folder.

By default, OneDrive will sync all files and folders from online storage to your local drive. However, you might want to limit what syncs on a secondary PC or if you have limited local storage. If so, select Choose folders to sync, and pick and choose only what you want. You can store everything in the cloud this way, and keep local access to only those files you currently need ready access to. When that’s done, click Next on the Sync screen.

The next screen is for the Fetch feature in OneDrive:

OneDrive's Fetch feature

OneDrive’s Fetch feature

This feature seems really useful, but Microsoft is apparently bent on destroying it: It doesn’t work with Windows 8.1, and no telling if they plan to reincorporate it. However, you should still be able to use it on older versions of Windows. If you enable the Fetch feature, you can access a file on your PC from another PC, even if it isn’t stored in OneDrive. Access is secured by your OneDrive (Microsoft) account, although I suspect security issues might be why it isn’t available in Windows 8.1. Fetch will be useful only if you work on different PCs. If you don’t plan to use it, deselect the check box. You can read more about the Fetch feature on Microsoft’s website.

5. Click Done to complete setup.

Using OneDrive on Your Computer

When OneDrive setup is complete, you’ll have a shortcut to your OneDrive folder automatically in the sidebar of your Windows Explorer window. If you’re not on Windows 8.1, the shortcut shows up under Favorites:

OneDrive folder shortcut in Windows Explorer

OneDrive folder shortcut in Windows Explorer

However, on Windows 8.1, it appears just below Favorites as its own category:

OneDrive folder in Windows Explorer on Windows 8.1 (where it's still SkyDrive)

OneDrive folder in Windows Explorer on Windows 8.1 (where it’s still SkyDrive)

Note also that the Windows 8.1 version hasn’t been updated to reflect the new name and still reads SkyDrive. Functionally, there’s no difference, and I’m sure Microsoft will correct the name in an update soon. It still links to and syncs with your OneDrive cloud storage.

Anything you save or place in your OneDrive folder (including any subfolders you create within the main folder) will automatically sync to your OneDrive cloud storage, unless you specifically omitted the item or location when you performed setup. To get automated backup for your writing and other important documents, save them within your OneDrive folder. You can recreate whatever folder structure you like to keep track of your various projects within the OneDrive folder, and that structure will duplicate as well.

As far as automated backup, that’s all there is to it: Use the OneDrive folder as your repository for anything you need backed up, and in the background the app takes care of syncing everything to your cloud storage. Just as with Dropbox, you can install the app on multiple computers and have the same access no matter which one you’re using. Of course, if you’re working on a computer that isn’t yours or that for any reason doesn’t have OneDrive installed locally, you can always log on to the website to access your files.

Additional Features

I’ve already mentioned the Fetch feature in OneDrive, which sounds be quite useful. However, I haven’t been able to test it personally. OneDrive also lets you share documents with others that you choose—a useful feature for critique groups, for instance. Sharing is enable through the website, and you can easily set permissions on individual files or folders, allowing “read only” or “edit” access. Check the Microsoft website for information about document sharing.

In addition to the desktop app, you can also get OneDrive for your tablet or smartphone, which includes Apple iOS, Android, and (of course) Windows Phone versions. The mobile app gives you easy access to your documents from just about anywhere (requires an Internet connection). If you use Office Mobile, which you can get for free with Office 365 Home Premium, you can load documents from OneDrive and work on them on your mobile device with full fidelity—all formatting is consistent between the mobile and desktop versions of your documents.

Redundant Backup

In my primer article, I suggested that a best case scenario would be to set up redundant backup solutions, which might include cloud backup and local storage options. You can also use multiple cloud providers to get redundant backup—which is what I’ve done by using both OneDrive and Dropbox.

My Dropbox storage capacity is the basic 2 GB, but on OneDrive I have much more. (Remember, even the basic OneDrive account is 7 GB.) So I’ve placed my Dropbox folder inside my OneDrive folder. Then, inside the Dropbox folder, I have my personally created folders that I use to keep track of various writing projects. Both the Dropbox folder and the OneDrive folder sync automatically to their respective clouds, which means I’ve got backup copies of all my writing in two different locations—in addition to my single local copy.

I’ve found this system works really well so far. However, I’m just waiting for either Microsoft or Dropbox to make some change in their app which prevents syncing from inside a synced folder. Or maybe Microsoft will buy Dropbox. Who knows? Technology is ever changing. We have to take best advantage of what we have now. And for now, this is a great way of using cloud storage and getting automated redundant backup for your important writing files.

OK, time to get those files backed up!

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins


10 thoughts on “Cloud Backup for Writers, Part 3: Using OneDrive

  1. Caroline

    Well done, BK! A clear, cogent explanation. About that need to use an MS account to log in to Win 8, I hope that was fixed in 8.1.


    1. bkwins Post author

      Thanks, Caroline. Regarding the Microsoft account, you might be right, although I believe you still need to sign in to your PC with that account in order to access OneDrive through the app.


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  3. Don't Drink Microshaft's Cloudy Kool-Aid

    Microshaft’s slightly-more-free-space-but-at-a-cost OneDrive — another half-baked Bingy-Zune that will linger like a bad perfume — is a proprietary swamp crafted to promote later M$ OSes and clobber anyone who dares to use XP, 2K, 98, Linux, etc. This WTFDrive (or whatever it’ll be called next) is merely storage on the Web, which is OS-independent, but M$ hates that, so, it will restrict you with arbitrary, customer-screwing roadblocks.

    Between the two, Dropbox is clearly superior, from OS support to FTP (M$ cannot figure out FTP? Baloney! Another deliberate roadblock!).

    For light, secondary storage, Dropbox’s free version is fine. For greater primary storage, couple an external drive with continuous-backup software, and if you need that content to be “in the cloud,” merely connect the drive to one of the many routers now offering USB ports specifically therefor.


    1. bkwins Post author

      Of course there are many different cloud storage services people can choose from, and all of them will have their plusses and minuses. (I never mentioned Apple iCloud, Google Drive, Box, or many others.) The only issue is which service best suits the needs of the individual. For the creative writers I’m addressing in this post, such things as FTP and Linux support are probably not an issue–therefore, OneDrive is a perfectly acceptable option. And so is Dropbox. And so is an external drive. Whatever works effectively, and is easy for non-technical people to set up and use–hey, that’s great.


  4. Don't Drink Microshaft's Cloudy Kool-Aid

    P.S. Your world will remain weird as long as you shun clarity and proper punctuation:

    Absurd: “Living at the Intersection of Music and Technology, Language and Creative Writing”

    Better: “Living at the Intersection of Music and Technology; Language; and Creative Writing”

    Best: “Living at the Intersection of Music, Technology, Language, and Creative Writing”


    1. bkwins Post author

      As a writer and editor, I’m well aware of the variety of punctuation options available. I’ve long believed that it’s necessary to learn the rules both so that you can follow them and know when to break them effectively. I believe my version has a more “musical” sound and isn’t unclear. But I apologize if it tripped you up. Naturally, I appreciate you sharing your opinions.


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