How do I get OneDrive under control? [Ask ZDNet]

People with heads in the clouds

When you upgrade to Windows 11 Home edition, the default settings configure your system to “back up your files” to OneDrive.

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Welcome to the latest episode ofAsk ZDNetwhere we answer the questions that will make your IT guy reach for the Tums.

This week in the mailbag: After an upgrade to Windows 11, a reader reports that their local documents, pictures and desktop folders are now syncing with OneDrive. What happened?

How do I get OneDrive under control?

I have two PCs that both use the same Microsoft account, which has never been a problem before, but Windows 11 struggles with OneDrive related issues, even to the extent of running out of storage space on my 256GB SSD. The Desktop, Pictures and Documents folders from both systems are now merged, causing a lot of headaches. Is this how OneDrive should work? How do I “tame” it?

I was a little shocked to see this in action recently, but I can attest that this is how Windows 11 works.

When you upgrade to Windows 11 Home Edition, the default settings configure your system to “back up your files” to OneDrive. In practice, this means that your Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders will be moved to OneDrive and synced with whatever other system you sign into with that account.

That option, as you’ve seen, can wreak havoc if you have tens of gigabytes of files in those core system folders on one PC and copy them to another.

To restore order (and reclaim all those gigabytes of disk space), you have two choices.

You can completely disable OneDrive backup. Open File Explorer, right-click the OneDrive icon in the left navigation pane, and choose OneDrive > Manage OneDrive Backup. That will open this dialog box, where you can click Stop Backup under one or more of the three folders in question. Doing so will restore your local folders; Keep in mind that your saved files are still in OneDrive and you’ll need to migrate them back to your local drive for easy access again.

Manage Folder Backup screen

Ed Bott

The second option is to backup those folders to OneDrive, but create archive folders for older files that you don’t always need to have on hand. You can then right click on those folders and uncheck the Always keep on this device option. That way, your files are backed up to the cloud, but take up almost no local space.

I agree that Microsoft has done a terrible job of documenting how OneDrive works. That’s a shame because it’s an extremely reliable service and it’s a great way to back up local files. Perhaps someone from the OneDrive team will read this post and put together an easy-to-follow guide so that others are not hampered by this feature.

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