OneDrive (previously SkyDrive, Windows Live SkyDrive and Windows Live Folders) is the online storage service offered by Microsoft. It’s been around since 2007, and has been through a number of iterations. It really started to come into its own with the introduction of Windows 8, where it started to assume a much more prominent role. Now with the imminent introduction of Windows 8.1, it is becoming more tightly integrated with the Windows operating system than ever, and the distinction between local and online (cloud) storage is becoming even more blurred.
I’ve changed all references to SkyDrive to OneDrive in this post since it was first written, to reflect the change of name given to the service by Microsoft. Some screenshots and external references still refer to the old SkyDrive name…
There’s a good post (Inside SkyDrive) over at the Windows blog that describes some of this integration. However, it seems to me that there is still room for further improvement.
For example, the author of the post (Mona Akmal, Group Program Manager, SkyDrive apps) writes:
Many people use search to quickly access their files. So we’ve made search work just as you’d expect – SkyDrive files show up in search results just like your local files.
Er, no, that’s not true. The way that the search function works is to index the information held in the small placeholder files held locally on your PC. These placeholder files represent the real files held up on the OneDrive service itself. At the moment, it seems that very little metadata is held in the placeholder files; only things such as the filename, and image thumbnails. So if I search for Descriptive Tags (aka Keywords) that are held in photo metadata, I get no results.
Let me illustrate this. In Windows 8, it is possible to have a local copy of your SkyDrive folders and files. Here’s a screenshot showing some of the OneDrive folders that are held locally on my Desktop PC:
These folders and the files within them are full local copies of the contents of my OneDrive storage. They are also included in the scope of the Windows Search engine running on the PC, and because they contain all the metadata, they are also searchable. So, for example, If I search for pictures of our dog, Kai, I get 16 hits of OneDrive photos that contain the Descriptive Tag: Kai:
My ThinkPad Tablet, on the other hand, is running the Windows 8.1 Preview. In Windows 8.1, the contents of my OneDrive storage is represented by placeholder files:
To all intents and purposes, they look like the original Folders and Files held in my OneDrive , but they are not; merely placeholders. A full local copy of a file is not present on the Tablet, unless I have edited the file. So now, if I search for photos of Kai, I get a sad little “No items match your search” message:
That’s because the placeholder files do not contain any photo metadata. This seems to me like a real limitation, particularly since there is no way of searching Descriptive Tags in photos in OneDrive itself – even though the files themselves have the metadata.
Here, for example, is the OneDrive App in Windows 8.1. Note how the Search Charm is not able to search OneDrive , but only the web or local files:
Searching for “Kai” produces only the results from my local libraries, not from OneDrive :
If I use Internet Explorer to browse OneDrive directly, then I still can’t search on Descriptive Tags. Here’s the initial view of my OneDrive :
If I use the “Search OneDrive” function at the top left, and search for “Kai”, then nothing is found:
So the SkyDrive service is not indexing metadata such as the Descriptive Tags. This, by the way, is a long standing issue with the SkyDrive service. I’ve raised it on a number of occasions with the OneDrive team, and nothing has changed.
In addition, the Windows 8.1 integration of OneDrive is also not indexing metadata, so perhaps the Microsoft statement should be rewritten as:
Many people use search to quickly access their files. So we’ve made search work just not as you’d expect – SkyDrive files won’t always show up in search results unlike your local files.
Update 4 October 2013: If you read the comments below this post, you’ll see that members of the OneDrive team have replied. The good news is that they are working to address the shortcomings of the current search experience – photo metadata is now being included in the placeholder files. That’s good to hear.
Update 7 May 2014: I’ve just done a test of uploading some files, containing IPTC Core keywords (tags) in their metadata, to OneDrive. You still can’t search for the tags using the browser accessing the online service – they don’t show up in the search results.
However, it does appear as though the tags are now being included in the metadata contained in the placeholder files. So a search of the OneDrive folders on your local PC will find the tags. So, one step forward.
Update 10 May 2014: The support for tags in the OneDrive service itself is still pretty much broken. Microsoft seem to have forgotten their one-time goal that “the truth is in the file“.