OneDrive Clients and Version History

Restoring Files from OneDrive, Finder, and File Explorer

I’m used to being disappointed by technology. At least, I should be, for that’s been my experience over the last 40 years. Old dogs don’t easily learn new tricks. My latest disappointment came when I finally got around to checking out Office 365 notification MC205517 from March (updated in April) which announced that the OneDrive sync history would be available in more clients.

The notification explains: “You will now be able to view and restore previous versions of your files directly in your desktop via your File Browser or Mac Finder.” The explanation in Microsoft 365 Roadmap item 61527 is: “Users will see a new entry in the context menu in Finder, File Explorer, and OneDrive Activity Feed. Version history will allow users to download previous versions of a file as well restore or delete previous versions.”

Useful to Restore Versions

Being able to access the version history for a file and restore a previous version is very useful. If you open the OneDrive Sync client, the available file options are shown when you click the menu on the right hand side (Figure 1).

File options in the OneDrive sync client
Figure 1: File options in the OneDrive sync client

The feature has been available in the OneDrive and SharePoint Online browser clients for several years and is also available in the Office desktop apps (Figure 2).

Access to file versions in Word
Figure 2: Access to file versions in Word

When autosave is used with Office files, new versions are captured automatically during edit sessions. The development of a reasonably complex document can generate hundreds of versions. OneDrive consumer stores up to 25 versions of a document while OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online can store hundreds of versions.

I’ve had occasion to restore files in both SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business to rescue the situation after some botched changes were made to documents. Although Microsoft posted the update for OneDrive (both Business and Consumer), my naïve assumption was that it would work for documents in SharePoint libraries synchronized to a PC by the OneDrive Sync client. Well, it didn’t – on one of my two PCs. And this is the root of my disappointment.

Different OneDrive Versions Different Outcomes

I recently bought a new Surface Book 3 and installed the Microsoft 365 Enterprise apps on the PC. The software installed includes the OneDrive Sync client, which reports version 20.084.0426.0007. Everything works very nicely on this PC. I can select a document with File Explorer or in the OneDrive Sync client, choose version history and I see a screen like Figure 3.

What OneDrive clients show should for file history
Figure 3: What OneDrive clients show should for file history

But when I switch to the older Surface Book 2, where version 20.114.0607.0001 of the OneDrive Sync client is installed, version history is only available for files stored in OneDrive for Business. Attempts to see the version history of any file stored in SharePoint Online generate a “couldn’t load versions” error (Figure 4), even for files that the client handles perfectly well on the other PC.

OneDrive can't load version history
Figure 4: OneDrive can’t load version history

Of course, two different versions of the client are involved here. The PC which works runs 20.084.0426.0007, released to the production ring on June 11, 2020. The PC which doesn’t runs 20.114.0607.0001, released to the production ring on July 1, 2020 and now rolling out (see this page for information about OneDrive releases). Normally problems are solved by installing the most recent update, but apparently not in this case.

PC Failure Interrupts OneDrive Happiness

As far as I can tell, everything else is much the same on the two PCs. Both are up to date with patches. Surface Book 2 runs Windows 10 Pro while the Surface Book 3 runs Windows 10 Home. At least, it did until it experienced a failure and entered an Automatic Repair loop and wouldn’t restart. Resisting the temptation to rebuild a brand-new PC from scratch, I returned it to Microsoft, and I’m left with the Surface Book 2 where OneDrive doesn’t work as it should. Can you see why some disappointment has clouded my life?


Fortunately, working on the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook soon restores my good humor. Lots to do, lots to document, lots of change to analyze – some of which even works properly all the time.

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