First look: The new OneDrive for Mac, iPhone, and iPad

At long last, Microsoft moves to fill its cloud storage Mac gap and make Office 365 more usable to more people

A couple of years ago, my company standardized on Office 365. But Microsoft's cloud-managed service didn't really work on Macs or mobile devices, and about half the people at the company use an OS other than Windows. Although pretty much everyone works with Office apps and most people use Outlook even on a Mac, no one really opts for the OneDrive cloud storage service. Also, OWA is rarely used on iOS or Android.

Apple's and Google's mail, calendar, and contacts clients are darned good, so the awkward OWA app didn't stand much of a chance of adoption, especially given the pathetic state of the initial version. About the only task requiring OWA use is booking a meeting room. (The new Outlook app for iOS can't do that, either.) Still, we all happily use the Exchange back end, regardless of the client that works best on our platforms.

Not so with cloud storage -- because there wasn't a OneDrive for Buiness client for OS X, Mac users couldn't use our corporate OneDrive storage. (There was and still is a personal OneDrive client, but it can't access corporate files.) Many of us literally could not use the corporate OneDrive for work, even if we wanted to.

The iOS and Android versions of OneDrive for Business have only basic functionality, so users also avoid it on all devices. The truth is that OneDrive for Business is hard to use in Windows, too, especially if you have a regular OneDrive account set up.

Instead, most folks juggle a combination of Google Drive (mainly for access via Web browsers to shared resources in Google Apps, not so much for raw storage) and Dropbox or Box, both of which support any platform you're likely to use and don't have all the setup and usage difficulties of OneDrive.

I was quite interested in the beta version of OneDrive for OS X that Microsoft released last Wednesday. Maybe I could finally be a good corporate citizen!

I also was intrigued by the unified OneDrive for iOS that Microsoft released that day; it follows in the footsteps of what Microsoft has offered for several months to Android and Windows Phone users. (Until this week, you needed to install separate OneDrive and OneDrive for Business apps on an iPhone or iPad.)

OneDrive for Mac: Simple, but easier than in Windows

It's shocking that it took this long to get OneDrive for Business out as an OS X beta. But at least it's here, and maybe the real thing will ship soon.

The good news is that OneDrive for Business works like OneDrive: You get a virtual drive in the Finder so that you and your apps can access OneDrive for Business files normally. That means that Office for Mac can now access files in your corporate OneDrive for Business account -- which should have always worked.

OneDrive for Business for Mac beta

OneDrive for Business for Mac, in its January 2015 beta, provides simple access to your corporate documents via a virtual hard drive.

But there are no bells and whistles on the Mac version of OneDrive for Business, as there are none in personal OneDrive. All you get is that virtual drive -- no sharing capabilities as Box or Dropbox provide. Even iCloud offers more sharing than OneDrive, though you have to do so from within the apps, not from the Finder as Box and Dropbox allow.

Also, I wish Microsoft used a slightly different icon for the menu bar for OneDrive for Business than it does for OneDrive. They're the same, so you're likely to pick the wrong one when accessing settings. The good news is that the menu bar apps do very little, so you won't open them very often.

Though basic, OneDrive for Business for OS X is more usable than the Windows version. In Windows, you can't set OneDrive for Business as a virtual drive in File Explorer, though personal OneDrive works that way. In Windows 7 and Windows 8.x, you can access OneDrive for Business from within the Office 2013 apps -- which confusingly call the service Office 365 SharePoint, not OneDrive for Business.

In Windows 8.x, the OneDrive Metro app on the Start screen works with only one OneDrive account, and if you set up your PC using a personal account, you can't use the OneDrive app for your corporate account. (Likewise, if you set up your PC with your corporate account, you can't access personal OneDrive from the File Explorer or Metro OneDrive app.) If you work on your home PC, you may find it frustrating to rely on OneDrive for Business.

I guess that bias to working within Office helps ensure business documents are kept separate from your PC's local storage, but it also means you have to work in Office even for basic file management like organizing documents in folders. The workaround, ironically, will be to use a Mac instead once the final OneDrive for Business ships -- or use OneDrive for iOS or Android to manage your files.

Although Mac users have long been frustrated with inferior versions of Microsoft's apps, OneDrive is an example of how Microsoft treats its own Windows user base poorly, too.

When Microsoft releases the new Office for Mac late this year, based on the iPad-like touch version being developed for Windows 10, I hope it doesn't move OneDrive access solely into Office for Mac as it has for Windows. That'd really make users look to other cloud storage services instead. The Windows version should of course be similarly liberated.

Access from within Office is nice, but you should be able to work with OneDrive as, um, a drive in the File Explorer or Finder, too, exactly like OneDrive works in iOS and Windows Phone.

OneDrive for iOS: Also simple, and now the same as for Android

The newly integrated OneDrive app for iOS stays true to the simple functionality of the previous personal OneDrive and OneDrive for Business apps. The unified OneDrive app now works as it has in Android and Windows Phone.

What's new is that you can sign into multiple OneDrive accounts, including OneDrive for Business ones, then switch from one account to another.

unified OneDrive for iPad

The unified OneDrive app for iOS lets you switch among multiple OneDrive accounts, including business accounts. Files in each account are kept separate from other accounts.

You can create folders, move documents, delete documents, rename documents, view documents, and open documents in their corresponding Office apps -- exactly as you could before.

What you can't do is move files from account to another, as you can via the Finder in OS X. That separation in the mobile app will make IT rest easier.

All in all, both OneDrive for Business for Mac beta and the unified OneDrive iOS app are welcome. But Microsoft still has a ways to go to making its cloud storage service both universal and nicely functional.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.