Microsoft is readying OneDrive Photos’ big comeback

Once known for its focus on end users, tech giant Microsoft has shifted its attention primarily to enterprise clientele. In the past, users benefited from the helpful tools provided by Windows Live, such as Photo Gallery with its groundbreaking facial recognition, Movie Maker for editing travel videos, and Writer for publishing blog posts – all at no cost.

While some features of Windows Live Photo Gallery found their way into Microsoft’s cloud storage service, OneDrive, its lack of innovation quickly rendered it obsolete. In contrast, competitors like Google Photos stepped up their game by offering superior features, including a powerful search engine that identifies photos based on their content and integrated social features like commenting and Google Maps integration.

One of the noticeable advantages of Microsoft’s competitors, like Google Photos, Amazon Photos, and iCloud, is speed. When it comes to browsing images, OneDrive takes nearly twice as long as Google Photos to load them.

In an unexpected move in 2019, Google separated Google Photos from Google Drive, requiring users to upload their images separately and eliminating the synchronization between the two platforms. This approach, also employed by Facebook, limits users’ control over managing and deleting photos in bulk, making it nearly impossible to transfer or delete their entire photo collections from the platform. Despite the backlash this change received, nothing has been done to address the concerns.

Are you a Microsoft 365 user? Do you prefer the Microsoft ecosystem or are you tired of worrying about the privacy practices of less transparent services? Here’s some good news: a revamped version of OneDrive Photos is set to launch soon, and I had the opportunity to preview it firsthand.

Gallery View

Let’s start from the beginning. When you click on “Photos”, you will be redirected to photos.onedrive.com. There, you will be greeted with a fresh new screen featuring a polished UI that aligns with Microsoft’s latest visual language. In the upper right corner, you now have the option to view photos from two sources: 1) All OneDrive; or 2) Pictures folder. Alongside the existing view modes River and Square, you can now enjoy the new Waterfall mode to display your images. But what’s truly exciting is the introduction of the new Group photos function. Have you ever taken multiple shots to capture the perfect image in different conditions? This feature will prove invaluable to you. Group photos intelligently selects and groups similar photos together.

In an effort to provide a cleaner interface, Microsoft is introducing two new controls to manage the number of image thumbnails displayed at once. By clicking on Toggle Compact View, you can make the images larger by minimizing the gap between them. Additionally, you now have the ability to control the size of thumbnails by adjusting the slider to Zoom in or out.

Scrolling through your timeline of images is now effortless. When you go back in time, the date the current photo was taken is displayed. If you prefer the previous method of displaying the date above each new day of photos, simply check the box for Inline dates.

In the upcoming version of OneDrive Photos, you will have the ability to Hover over grouped photos to view them or preview a video. During testing, it was observed that the option to right-click for the context menu was missing for images. However, the three icons that appear partially compensate for this by allowing you to share, delete, or view details.

Albums View

When you navigate to the Albums section, you’ll be greeted with a thumbnail showcasing the entire image. The information displayed on the thumbnail includes the album’s creation date, last modification date, and the number of photos it contains. Once inside the album, not much has changed, except for the convenient option to edit the album name simply by clicking on it. In the upper right corner, you’ll find the same display customizations available in the Gallery view.

Explore View

Explore allows you to effortlessly browse images based on where they were taken (Places) and their content (Things). Additionally, a new section called Categories has been introduced, which organizes images into Selfies, Videos, Receipts, Screenshots, and Documents. This feature proves invaluable when searching for specific types of images in your extensive photo collection Camera Roll.

Image View

Finally, when you click on an image, you will be taken to a beautifully clean screen that allows you to focus solely on the image. The grey background is only covered by a slightly lighter top bar with icons. These icons provide the same options as the current interface, with the exception of “Play slide show” and “Embed”. These features will hopefully be added when OneDrive Photos is rolled out. However, I’m delighted to announce that I was able to browse images in full-screen mode by simply clicking “Toggle full screen”. It’s an essential feature for photos.

Speed

One aspect that brings me immense joy is the speed. I must say that OneDrive is finally catching up to Google and other companies in terms of photo storage solutions. However, I have noticed that the transition between photos is still somewhat rough, lacking smoothness. Furthermore, upon closer inspection, I have observed that the images are not as sharp.

Overall, I am thrilled by this unexpected step taken by Microsoft to enhance the photo experience on OneDrive. To be honest, I had already given up hope and migrated my email, office, and cloud storage to Google. However, with this new interface, the recent announcement of Bing AI, and the apparent slowdown in innovation on Google’s part, I found myself reconsidering and moving back to OneDrive. I sincerely hope that Microsoft will address these minor issues and introduce (again) comprehensive photo management features to complement the otherwise exceptional file management service that is OneDrive.


Wouldn’t it be great to have the OneDrive Photos features available in OneDrive Business as well? Share your thoughts and make your voice heard on the Microsoft Feedback Portal.

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