For Windows 10, A Feedback Test

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Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system is a large project, and one that is being built partially in plain sight. The software company, leaving behind its former ways, is working to integrate its community into the development process, even highlighting their feedback when it results in new features and changes that were sourced from people outside the firm.

Such it was last week when Microsoft released a new build of Windows 10, which it claimed will be the final iteration for this calendar year. It’s almost December, and since the new code contained quite a bit of new, it was a reasonable timeframe. However, past new features and icons and the like, the latest Windows 10 build included a massive change to how the operating system interacted with OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage product.

In Windows 8.1, Microsoft greatly increased the integration between Windows and OneDrive. OneDrive also contained a system called smart files, that allowed a user to have icons for files on their computer, even when the file was actually in OneDrive’s cloud. When selected, the file would quickly download, giving the user the impression of having all their files on board, even when their hard drive could not hold all their digital loot.

It’s gone. Users now have what the company called selective sync. Here’s the official verbiage:

Starting with this build, OneDrive will use selective sync. This means you choose what you want synced to your PC and it will be. What you see is really there and you don’t need to worry about downloading it. You can choose to have all of your OneDrive files synced to your PC, or just the ones you select.

Reaction was immediate, and negative. The following comment, posted to the Windows 10 user feedback forum quickly picked up thousands of votes [Formatting, etc: Original]:

add an advanced option to restore showing ALL OneDrive files in Explorer, synced or not

I rely on being able to see all the files on my OneDrive through Explorer, whether they are synced locally or not; if this integration is lost there is no advantage to using OneDrive over any other cloud. Please add the option for power users to continue to see all files and use an icon overlay to show which are local & which cloud

The feedback was visceral enough that Microsoft responded to the comment, essentially saying that this was just the way things are going to be [Bolding: TechCrunch]:

Wanted to jump in here and address some of the questions and feedback we are getting about the changes we rolled out yesterday. As we look at the next version of OneDrive, we are working very hard to make sure it provides the best experience possible for our customers, and a big part of that is getting the sync model right.

We hear the feedback on placeholders, and we agree that there many great things about the model – for example, being able to see all your files in the cloud even if they are not all sync’ed to your PC. However, we were not happy with how we built placeholders, and we got clear feedback that some customers were confused (for example, with files not being available when offline), and that some applications didn’t work well with placeholders and that sync reliability was not where we needed it to be.

So, we stepped back to take a fresh look at OneDrive in Windows. The changes we made are significant. We didn’t just “turn off” placeholders – we’re making fundamental improvements to how Sync works, focusing on reliability in all scenarios, bringing together OneDrive and OneDrive for Business in one sync engine, and making sure we have a model that can scale to unlimited storage. In Windows 10, that means we’ll use selective sync instead of placeholders. But we’re adding additional capabilities, so the experience you get in Windows 10 build 9879 is just the beginning. For instance, you’ll be able to search all of your files on OneDrive – even those that aren’t sync’ed to your PC – and access those files directly from the search results. And we’ll solve for the scenario of having a large photo collection in the cloud but limited disk space on your PC.

Longer term, we’ll continue to improve the experience of OneDrive in Windows File Explorer, including bringing back key features of placeholders.

So keep the feedback coming. We’re working every day to improve OneDrive, and customer feedback is a hugely important part of that.”

That sounds like the company isn’t changing its mind. Microsoft has made tough choices for structural reasons before, like when the company had to let Windows Phone 7.5 essentially die on the vine so that Windows Phone itself could be moved over to share code with the rest of Windows.

I think that here we are seeing the front-end changes that comes on the shoulders of quite a lot of back-end work. That won’t quiet the irked, but for now Microsoft has a choice: Change its plans, or deal with annoyed technology-loving folks who want things back the way that they were.

I suspect that there were more comments from people who were confused by smart files than comments from people mad that they are gone, but, certainly, Microsoft is dealing with the first sustained, negative press cycle of the life of Windows 10. That’s can’t feel great.

Windows 10 has garnered generally optimistic reviews to date in its life, despite being only partially available, in the feature sense. It will be curious to see what other changes are on the way.

Microsoft wants to be more responsive, and open. The OneDrive flap is an interesting moment, combining the company’s new iterative development cycle, and its coalescing Windows strategy. I have a hunch that the latter bit will take precedence.

If the testing userbase it has attracted will be sympathetic to that idea remains to be seen. Early indications are negative.