Tech giant Microsoft used to care more about the end user. Before it began to focus mainly on the enterprise clientele, users enjoyed its helpful tools with Windows Live apps. You could manage your photos in Photo Gallery featuring ground-breaking facial recognition, edit your travel videos in Movie Maker and publish blog posts in Writer. Without spending a penny.
Microsoft’s cloud storage OneDrive inherited some of the Windows Live Photo Gallery features. But due to the lack of innovation, it quickly became obsolete. And so, it took services such as Google Photos a little effort to come up with better features. Google Photos shine with its search engine that allows one to quickly find photos based on what’s in them. It also introduced social features such as commenting and brought integration with Google Maps.
One of the most noticeable advantages of Microsoft’s competitors such as Google Photos, Amazon Photos and iCloud is speed. When browsing images, it takes OneDrive about twice as much as Google Photos to load them.
In 2019 Google did what no one expected. It separated Google Photos from Google Drive. To use Google Photos, users are now forced to upload their images from their phones or PC separately. The photos are no longer synced with Google Drive. This is similar to what Facebook is doing with its photos. It takes control away from users by making it harder to manage and delete photos in bulk. As a result, it is almost impossible to transfer/delete your photo collection and move away from the platform. Of course, this change saw a big user backslash. But nothing has changed.
Are you a Microsoft 365 user? Do you prefer the Microsoft ecosystem? Or are you just tired of worrying about the privacy of other less transparent services? I have good news for you! It looks like revamped OneDrive Photos is ready to launch soon. And I got early hands-on.
Let’s start from the beginning. Clicking on Photos will now take you to photos.onedrive.com. You will be welcomed onto a brand-new screen with polished UI that resembles Microsoft’s latest visual language. In the upper right corner, you can now choose to display photos from two sources: 1) All OneDrive; or 2) Pictures folder. In addition to the two current view modes River and Square, you can display your images in Waterfall mode. But what’s exciting is the new function Group photos. Do you sometimes blast the shutter to get the best image possible under the current conditions? Then this should come in very handy to you. Group photos intelligently select similar photos and groups them.
In its efforts for a cleaner interface, Microsoft is adding two new controls to manage how many image thumbnails are shown at one time. Clicking on Toggle Compact View makes the images bigger by minimizing the gap between each of them. Newly, you can also control the size of thumbnails by moving the slider to Zoom in or out.
Scrolling through images in your timeline is a breeze. Going back in time shows the date the current photo was taken. You can switch to the old way of displaying the date above each new day of photos by checking Inline dates.
The upcoming version of OneDrive Photos will let you Hover over grouped photos to view them or to preview a video. At the time of testing, images were missing the option to right-click for the context menu. However, the three icons appearing over the image partially make up for this by allowing you to share, delete or view details.
By going to the Albums, you will be welcomed with a full-image thumbnail. The info shown over the thumbnail tells you when the album was created, the last time it was modified, and how many photos it contains. Inside the album, nothing much has changed, except for the option to edit the album name simply by clicking on it. In the upper right corner, you will find the same display customizations as in the Gallery view.
Explore will show you images grouped by where they were taken (Places) and what is in them (Things). There’s a new section called Categories that groups the images into Selfies, Videos, Receipts, Screenshots and Documents. This is handy when you have a lot of images in The Camera Roll and want to quickly find a certain type of image.
Finally, clicking on a single image will bring you to a super clean screen, helping you concentrate on the image. The grey background is covered only by the top, a slightly lighter bar, with icons. The icons offer the same options as in the old (current) interface, except for “Play slide show” and “Embed”. This will hopefully be added by the time of the OneDrive Photos rollout. However, I’m happy to report that I was able to browse images in full-screen mode by clicking “Toggle full screen”. A must-have feature for photos.
One thing I enjoy the most is the speed. I can say that OneDrive is finally catching up with Google and other companies offering photo storage solutions. However, the transition between the photos is still rough (not as smooth). And after a second look, I noticed that the images are not quite sharp.
Overall, I’m excited about this unexpected Microsoft’s step to update the photo experience on OneDrive. To be honest, I had already given up hope and migrated my email, office and cloud storage to Google. But this new interface, the recent announcement of Bing AI, and the sudden halt of innovation on Google’s part made me reconsider. I moved back. Let’s hope Microsoft can catch those bugs and bring decent photo features to the otherwise great service that is OneDrive.
Would you like to see OneDrive Photos features in OneDrive Business as well? Add your voice on the Microsoft Feedback Portal.