How to Sync Your Desktop to the Cloud with OneDrive

The Cloud: A Beautiful Thing


Services like Dropbox and OneDrive are a great way to get access to all your documents across multiple PCs, tablets, and your phone. The problem is you have to remember to place files in the specified Dropbox or OneDrive folder for it to be of any use.

Have Desktop, Will Travel

A Windows dumping

One solution to this problem is to put commonly used folders such as your Windows desktop in the cloud. This is a great solution for anyone that uses their desktop as a general dumping ground for downloaded files, or frequently accessed items.

That way you'll always have those files synced across your devices. For maximum desktop madness you can also set other PCs you use to sync their desktops with OneDrive. That way you'll get all your files from all your desktops no matter where you are--even if you're on the go with a phone or a Chromebook. 

If moving your desktop to the cloud doesn't grab you, and you have Windows 10 installed, you can also set your PC to automatically suggest OneDrive each time you want to save a document. Then you won't even have to think about where to put your files as your PC will go to OneDrive automatically.

We'll cover both of these solutions in this article starting with moving your desktop to the cloud.

A Note About Security

Dimitri Otis/Digital Vision

Moving your desktop or other folders to the cloud is far more convenient than having files locked down on a PC or needing to remember to save your files to a USB thumb drive before you leave the office.

However, there are some security implications to consider. Whenever you put files online they are potentially accessible to others. Law enforcement can, for example, use a warrant to demand access to your files, and you may not even be made aware of this when it happens.

Now I know most people reading this probably aren't concerned about law enforcement trying to see their files saved in the cloud. A more common predicament is when malicious hackers guess or outright steal your account password. If that happens the bad guys would potentially have access to your OneDrive files. That's not a huge deal if all you've got saved to the cloud is old poetry from high school. Unauthorized access to work documents or files with personal information, however, can be devastating.

To mitigate this risk there are a number of security measures you can take. One is to enable two-factor authentication for your cloud storage account.

An easier measure is to simply not put anything in the cloud that has information you wouldn't want others to see. For home users, that usually means keeping items such as financial spreadsheets, bills, and mortgages on your hard drive and not in the cloud.

Moving Your Desktop to the Cloud with OneDrive

Desktop Properties

Here's how to move your desktop to OneDrive. This assumes that you have the OneDrive desktop sync client installed on your PC. Anyone running Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 will automatically have this program, but Windows 7 users will have to download and install the sync client to their PC if they haven't already.

The next step is to open File Explorer in Windows 8.1 or 10, or Windows Explorer in Windows 7. All three versions of Windows can open Explorer use the keyboard shortcut: hold down the Windows logo key and then tap E.

Now that Explorer is open right-click Desktop, and then from the context menu that appears select Properties.

Now a new window called Desktop Properties opens with several tabs. Select the Location tab.

Point to the Cloud

Desktop Properties Location Tab

Now we get to the meat of the change. It may not seem like it to you, but as far as your computer is concerned the desktop is just another folder on your PC where files are saved. And just like any other folder it has a specific location.

In this case, it should be C:\Users[Your User Account Name]\Desktop. If you login to your PC as Fluffy, for example, then your desktop would be located at C:\Users\Fluffy\Desktop.

All we have to do is add OneDrive to the folder location, and the sync client will take care of the rest. Click the location text entry box and then edit it to look like the following: C:\Users\[Your User Account Name]\OneDrive\Desktop

Next, click Apply and Windows will ask you to confirm that you want to move the desktop to OneDrive. Click Yes, then your computer will copy the files over to OneDrive. Once that's done click OK in the Desktop Properties window, and you're done.

A Safer, but Longer Approach

Desktop Properties Location Tab

Using the steps above it's critical to type the location correctly; however, if you're not comfortable with that there is a more involved, but more foolproof, method.

Start once again by opening Windows Explorer, right-clicking the Desktop folder, and selecting Properties from the context menu. This time in the Desktop Properties window under the Location Tab click Move..., which is right underneath the text entry box.

Clicking that button will open another Explorer window showing a variety of locations on your PC such as your user account folder, OneDrive, and This PC.

Double-click OneDrive from among those options to open the OneDrive folder. Then on the next screen click New folder at the top left of the window. When the new folder appears in the main section of the window name it Desktop and hit Enter on your keyboard.

Keep Clicking

Select Folder

Now, single click that new Desktop folder with your mouse, and then click Select Folder at the bottom of the window. You'll see that the text entry box in the Location tab now has the same location as it did using the previous method. Namely, C:\Users\[Your User Account Name]\OneDrive\Desktop

As with the other method click Apply, confirm the move by clicking Yes, and then hit OK in the Desktop Properties window to close it.

Not Just for Desktops

The Windows 10 Desktop
The Windows 10 (Anniversary Update) desktop.

You don't have to move just the desktop to the cloud. Any folder you want can also be moved over to OneDrive using the same process. That said, I wouldn't recommend doing that if all you need is to move your documents folder to OneDrive.

By default, OneDrive already has a documents folder, and for that reason it makes more sense to use a different method--at least if you're on Windows 10.

Embracing the cloud by default

OneDrive Settings

The second way is tell Windows to offer OneDrive as the primary location for saving your documents. If you use Office 2016 in Windows 10 this already happens for those programs, but you can set up your PC similarly for other programs as well.

In Windows 10, click the upward facing arrow on the far right of the taskbar. In the pop-up panel that appears, right-click the OneDrive icon (a white cloud), and then choose Settings from the context menu.

Auto Save

OneDrive Auto Save

In the OneDrive settings window that opens click the Auto Save tab. Click the drop down menu to the right of Documents and select OneDrive. Do the same for photos if you want to, and then click OK.

If you selected the Pictures option, you'll be asked to choose a folder in OneDrive where your images will automatically go. I'd suggest choosing the Pictures folder, or creating that folder if it doesn't exist.

After that, you're done. The next time you try to save a file Windows should automatically offer OneDrive as the default save location.