Editorial

Microsoft's OneDrive changes are a senseless overreaction to a problem it created

One year ago, Microsoft excitedly announced: "Storage limits just became a thing of the past with Office 365. OneDrive and OneDrive for Business will now offer unlimited storage - at no additional cost". Suddenly, for the same price as rival cloud platforms were charging for a few terabytes of storage per month, Microsoft was offering storage without limits and usage of what many consider to be the world's best productivity suite.

But now, Microsoft's offering suddenly looks quite different. Yesterday, the company announced significant changes to OneDrive, in a blog post that meaninglessly attributes its new policies to the "pursuit of productivity and collaboration".

And so, twelve months after declaring storage limits "a thing of the past", Microsoft announced their return yesterday. The new restrictions aren't just a minor revision of existing allowances - the company is dramatically reducing the amount of storage it provides to virtually every OneDrive user.

To those it promised unlimited storage with Office 365, it now offers just 1TB. To those it previously offered 15GB of free space, it will now provide just 5GB - a change affecting both new and existing customers. And even the 15GB of free 'camera roll' storage for cloud photo backup is being discontinued.

These changes are galling, to say the least. They will frustrate and inconvenience users; they will confuse some customers who enjoyed the simplicity of not having to worry about such limitations (and perhaps some who even signed up to Office 365 for that very reason); and of course, they will attract derision from Microsoft's rivals. But what's especially notable about Microsoft's explanation is how little sense it actually makes.

Microsoft claims that the main reason it has decided to implement these changes is because some users have abused the unlimited storage facility. Since last year, it says, "a small number of users backed up numerous PCs and stored entire movie collections and DVR recordings". Its blog post went on to explain that "in some instances, this exceeded 75 TB per user or 14,000 times the average".

Microsoft says that it wants to ensure that it can continue to offer a high-quality service for all of its customers, "instead of focusing on extreme backup scenarios". And yet, its reaction - or overreaction - to the situation is so singularly focused on those few users who apparently used too much of their unlimited storage that it's hard to take any of its explanation seriously.

Image via Cloudwards

This is, after all, a problem of Microsoft's own making. It promised unlimited storage to its customers - and yet, it now complains that some of its customers dared to take it up on that offer, using more than their fair share, whatever that arbitrary amount may be. What exactly constitutes 'fair usage' when you're encouraged to use something without limits?

Of course, like many a mobile carrier, it seems that Microsoft was happy to enjoy the marketing benefits of advertising an 'unlimited' service, but is now throwing its toys out of the pram because some users took it at its word. But even if we give Microsoft a break on that front - it's no worse than the carriers, after all... - the way it's dealing with the situation defies reason.

It doesn't want to focus on these few 'abusive' users, it says - so its solution for dealing with them is to completely overhaul its service, drastically reducing its offering for everyone else, as a direct reaction to that supposed abuse. Why not simply deal with the few users that it considers to be misusing the service? Why not simply revise its terms and conditions to forbid the specific usage scenarios that it finds so egregious? Why not offer a reasonably-priced 'video locker' option for those few users who want to back up their massive video collections online?

The way that Microsoft has presented these changes as a reasonable solution makes very little sense too. In what possible way does killing the free 15GB camera roll allowance, or slashing free storage from 15GB to 5GB, help to deal with the "small number of users" who supposedly abused the platform by uploading dozens of terabytes at a time? What benefit is there for those wishing to actually pay for cloud storage in killing off its 100GB and 200GB options, replacing them with a smaller 50GB plan? And how do these reductions in its service offering promote the "pursuit of productivity and collaboration"?

Like any business, of course, Microsoft has to make tough decisions to ensure that it can continue to provide its products and services profitably, and sometimes the choices it makes will be unpopular.

But whichever way you look at it, the company has done a poor job of justifying its latest changes, with an explanation loosely held together by those 'productivity' and 'collaboration' buzzwords - and in this context, they're as meaningless as its promise a year ago to banish cloud storage limits to the past.

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