In the wake of this week’s surprisingly similar releases of the SkyDrive and Google Drive applications for Windows, it’s now clearer that both companies have the same service, Dropbox, in their sights. This wasn’t obvious at first since Microsoft already had a service, Windows Live Mesh, which was in many ways superior to Dropbox.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the future of Live Mesh, whether this SkyDrive application means that Live Mesh will soon disappear, and so on. It’s a bit early for that, though truth be told I do expect Microsoft to eventually kill off Live Mesh. For that to happen, however, SkyDrive needs to pick up some missing features that still make Live Mesh the better solution for many.
Key among these missing features are:
Multiple folders. With the SkyDrive (and Google Drive, and Dropbox) app, you can sync one folder and one folder only between the online service and your PC, and it represents the entire collection of contents in the online service. With Live Mesh, you can sync as many folders as you like, and on each PC you can determine where these folders appear in the file system. I use this feature extensively. For example, I have a folder called Favorites I sync to my Pictures folder on the PC and folders like Docs, Work, and Windows 8 Secrets (among others) that I sync to Documents.
It’s not all or nothing. When you install the SkyDrive app, you are forced to sync everything from SkyDrive to your PC. There’s no way to configure it to sync just parts of it. So if you buy extra storage, and then actually have the temerity to fill it up, you may not be able to use the SkyDrive application at all. That’s because a SkyDrive full with 125 GB of content (the 100 GB plan plus the free 25 GB of storage for those who are grandfathered in) will exceed the storage capacity of the 128 GB SSD that is found in most of today’s portable computers. Now what?
Remote desktop. While the SkyDrive app enables a nice Remote Fetch feature that lets you browse a remote PC’s file system, Live Mesh includes a much more powerful remote desktop feature. Why is this more powerful? Because Remote Fetch only lets you get files from one PC. But if you access your PC remotely from Live Mesh, you can use its Network explorer to browse the file systems of other computers on your home network too. I actually use this pretty regularly.
Also, the SkyDrive application for Windows works nothing like the SkyDrive mobile app for Windows Phone, Windows 8, iPhone, or iPad. That is, while these mobile apps all provide a remote view of your SkyDrive storage, with the ability to download or open documents and other files, the SkyDrive application for Windows cannot work this way: When you install it, it syncs everything in SkyDrive to your PC. There’s no view-only option. This seems curiously limiting to me.
Put simply, I expect the SkyDrive application to evolve this year to encompass most (but not all) of the missing functionality outlined above. And as it does so, it may become that Live Mesh replacement we’re all looking for. But as of today, it’s just a technological curiosity. Interesting, but not ready to replace the proven solution we’re already using. If you use Live Mesh, pay attention to the SkyDrive application, yes. But don’t give up what you’re using yet.
Another aspect of this application that many seem to have missed is that this is Microsoft’s Dropbox play. That is, even though Microsoft already had a solution that was superior to Dropbox in so many ways, it created a new application, working off its existing service, that basically mimics the way Dropbox works, limitations and all. And what’s even more amazing is that one day later, Google released its Google Drive service and corresponding Google Drive application for Windows and other platforms.
Its weird how identical these applications and services now are. Really weird.
This similarity is driven home by a chart that Microsoft provided this week, that I’m sure was simply republished on every tech blog on the planet. I won’t even look. Instead, let’s just compare these services—SkyDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox—and see which comes out ahead in key areas:
SkyDrive offers 7 GB of free storage (or a whopping 25 for those who previously used the service), compared to just 5 GB for Google Drive and 2 GB for Dropbox.
Paid storage (cost)
SkyDrive’s paid storage tiers are less expensive than those for Google Drive or Dropbox. Assuming you can live within the confines of these tiers (an additional 20, 50, or 100 GB), SkyDrive will cost you less each year.
Paid storage (availability of options)
Winner: Google Drive
Google may cost more—often much more—but give them credit, they do have far more options than SkyDrive (3 paid tiers) or Dropbox (2 paid tiers for individuals). With Google Drive, you can choose between an incredible 9 tiers, which range in size from 25 GB to 16 TB (!).
Winner: Depends on your choice of mobile platform
As is so often the case with these platforms, your choice of mobile device will determine which online services you use ... or vice versa. So Google people—those who use Gmail, Google+, Android devices, and so on, will be best served by Google’s services, including Google Drive. And if you’re a Microsoft guy, using Windows Phone and SkyDrive (and, soon, Windows 8) is going to give you the best experience. Where does that leave Dropbox? I have no idea. I don’t get the need for Dropbox at all. Never have.
Microsoft Office compatibility
I assume this one’s fairly obvious, but I’d throw out the fact that the coming release of Office 15 will drive this cross-platform compatibility to new heights. Regardless, if Office is central to what you do, SkyDrive is it.
Large file support
Winner: Google Drive
SkyDrive and Dropbox both let you store files up to 2 GB in size, but Google goes the distance with a 5 GB file size allowance.
Anyway, look through the Microsoft chart yourself, of course, and decide accordingly. But I made a big bet on SkyDrive long ago, and with this year’s changes, that bet is starting to really pay off. The release of Google Drive doesn’t change that at all. And I don’t see much room for a Dropbox in a market that now includes two bigger, more trusted players.