This week, I’m going to deviate slightly from SharePoint to look at another important Microsoft technology that supports collaboration not just for business purposes, but for personal ones as well. That is SkyDrive.
Microsoft has rarely been able to create Apple-like hype and buzz around its technologies. In my opinion, one of the under-marketed “shining stars” of Microsoft’s online offerings is SkyDrive, a cloud storage platform that has been around for longer than Dropbox, iCloud, and many other now-überpopular alternatives.
If you haven’t been following what’s going on with SkyDrive recently, there are some important updates that you should note. SkyDrive now has a couple of new features, for example, that make it a more viable alternative to Dropbox.
There are also great new apps that extend SkyDrive into Windows Explorer and Windows Phone and, interestingly, iOS and Mac. Most importantly, there are service changes that have been made, and I highly recommend that you (and everyone you know) take a few steps now, because when Windows 8 arrives, you’ll be glad you did!
SkyDrive isn't a rocket-science technology, so rather than flesh out paragraphs (which would make this a super long article), I’m going to hit you with some bullet points and action items.
• SkyDrive is the cloud storage, sharing, and collaboration platform for Windows Live. If you’re not familiar with SkyDrive, you can learn more about it at at the Skydrive webpage.
• SkyDrive is going to be a cornerstone of Microsoft’s platform moving forward. Windows 8 uses it to synchronize favorites and settings between computers, and clearly, now, it will be the option for synchronizing documents across devices, and making files available “anywhere, anytime” as well.
• SkyDrive is not just for Windows. As you’ll see below, it is being extended to iOS, Mac, and Android. It is simply Microsoft’s cloud storage. So don’t ignore it just because you’re an iOS consumer.
Windows Live ID
• SkyDrive is attached to your Windows Live ID. Windows Live IDs will become increasingly important in coming months and years. Make sure you have one. Go to www.live.com to create a Windows Live ID.
• If you have a Windows Live Mail (WLM, also known as Hotmail) account, you already have a Windows Live ID. If you don’t have a Windows Live ID, get one for free at www.live.com.
When you sign up for Windows Live ID, you get a free WLM account, or you can opt to use your existing email address (and thereby not have a WLM account). If your email is a work email address, and you don’t work for yourself, I suggest getting a WLM account. It never hurts to have a “personal” email account, even if you don’t use it now. Jobs change.
SkyDrive Storage Limits
• SkyDrive offers free cloud storage for 7GB. Existing subscribers (as of April 22, 2012) were “reduced” from 25GB to 7GB, but can “re-up” their free allocation to 25GB if they act quickly. So…
• If you already have a SkyDrive, go to it now (see Skydrive.live.com) and “up” your free allocation to 25GB. You will see a message informing you of the change, with a button to return to 25GB. If you don’t see that message, click the “Manage Storage” link, in the left navigation. Or simply go to the Manage Storage link. If you already had more than 4GB stored in SkyDrive prior to April 22, you were upped to 25GB automatically, for free.
• Microsoft has for-fee options for increased storage: 20 GB for $10/year, 50 GB for $25/year, and 100 GB for $50/year. These allocations are in addition to your free storage, so you end up with up to 125GB of storage.
• Maximum file size has been greatly increased. It’s 100MB when you upload by the browser, and 2GB when you upload using the desktop app. These limits make a lot of sense for technical reasons.
• Tip: I have a couple of SkyDrive accounts. I use one for sharing presentations, demos, and videos from my events—a “public” SkyDrive. That’s separate (and a separate allocation from) my personal SkyDrive.
Key SkyDrive Features for Documents
• Microsoft has really improved the user experience with which files and folders are “shared.” Now, when you “share,” you have many options for sharing: share directly with users (by sending an email), optionally require users to sign in (with their Windows Live ID), post a link to Facebook, Twitter, or other services, or simply obtain a link (URL) that you can copy and paste and send to people. Unless you require sign-in (with Windows Live ID), the URL is all you need—it contains the access key. You can obtain links that provide view (read) or view and edit (modify) permissions. So SkyDrive now makes it easy to share a single file or folder with anyone—something that I found painful (compared to Dropbox, for example), in previous versions of SkyDrive.
• SkyDrive includes Office Web Apps, so you can edit Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote in-browser. If you haven’t experienced Office Web Apps (which can run on SharePoint on-premises as well), please go do so now!
Key SkyDrive Features for Photos
• SkyDrive has a gorgeous photo-viewing and slide-show interface
• SkyDrive makes it easy to download a photo or an entire album (folder)
• You can easily embed a SkyDrive photo or album into a web page or blog, so use SkyDrive “behind” your web site or blog
• Unlike Facebook and some other alternatives, when you upload photos to SkyDrive you can preserve the original resolution (and file size). Facebook and many others will reduce the photo for in-browser viewing, which means friends, family, and co-workers who download the photo no longer have the full resolution with which to print or use the photo. SkyDrive reduces photos (to 2048 px) by default, but you can clear the “reduce” check box during the upload to preserve the original size.
• I personally love Windows Live Photo Gallery for organizing and performing simple edits on photos. Only rarely do I ever need to shell out to Adobe PhotoShop or any other photo application. WLPG integrates beautifully with SkyDrive (and Facebook, and YouTube, and Flickr, and others). When you upload photos from WLPG to SkyDrive, you can again preserve original resolution.
• Tip: If you ever create a document folder and realize (too late) that you should have created a photo folder (with thumbnails and all of the enhanced features of photo folders), just look for the Folder Type tag (in the right panel), and click Change.
About SkyDrive for Windows
• SkyDrive has really, really great apps for Windows Explorer now (Windows Vista, Windows 7). Get them at Apps.live.com. (See more in About SkyDrive Apps below.)
• The free download integrates SkyDrive fully into Windows Explorer: SkyDrive appears as a folder, expandable to SkyDrive’s subfolders. The folder appears in your “Favorites” panel (upper left) in the Explorer tree. There’s also a management app in your system tray.
• You can now open or save documents from or to SkyDrive from any Windows application—the fact that it’s a cloud storage location is abstracted from the applications running on Windows. Just as it should be.
• Files can be synced to multiple devices. Mesh has left the building--that functionality is now part of SkyDrive.
• You can drag-and-drop files up to 2GB in size.
• And a “killer” feature allows you to access files on a remote PC and “bring them to you.” The remote PC must be powered on and running the SkyDrive app.
• There’s an app in the Marketplace for Windows 8 Consumer Preview.
About SkyDrive Apps
• Apps are available that integrate SkyDrive very nicely into iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Macs. Get them at Apps.live.com.
• OneNote is available for iOS, and is built into Windows Phone. What? You don’t use OneNote? Try it!!! Yes, I’m also a fan of Evernote for particular workloads, but now that OneNote extends to all of my iOS and Windows devices, it’s my preferred tool, if for no other reason than it's indexed by Windows Desktop Search, so I can find what I need easily.
• Microsoft is moving very fast in releasing these cross-platform apps. I am sure an Android version can’t be far behind, and I’m also confident that the featureset of OneNote for iOS will be extended rapidly. Microsoft isn't sitting still, and it seems to me the Office and Online divisions really “get” that we’re using many different devices and OSs these days. So don’t despair if your device or feature isn’t there yet.
• Are you a developer? SkyDrive APIs are now in production so you can (and should, I think) integrate SkyDrive into your apps. See the article at "SkyDrive APIs."
About SkyDrive for Windows Phone
• Windows Phone connects automatically to your SkyDrive and uploads (backs up) each photo you take to a private folder in your SkyDrive, SKY DRIVE CAMERA ROLL. You might think about going to that folder (via a browser or app) and cleaning out photos you don’t want to keep so they don’t eat away your storage quotient.
• Windows Phone also uses SkyDrive when you share photos to twitter and some other services. The photo is uploaded to SkyDrive to a folder called TWITTER UPLOADS and a link is generated that is then posted to twitter. Only that one photo is accessible by the link—other photos in the folder are not. Works as you’d want it to.
• SkyDrive photo albums appear on your phone automatically, when you’re connected to the Internet.
SkyDrive is clearly ready for prime time, and is being used across many Microsoft technologies—Windows, Windows Phone, Office, and Online—so take a few minutes to make sure you’re up to speed and, if you’re an existing subscriber, that you’ve upped your free allocation to 25GB. Download the new apps, and spend some time exploring the features and user interfaces that have been so greatly improved over recent months. And, if you need to share something one-off with a friend, family member, or colleague, give some serious thought to using SkyDrive instead of Google Drive or Dropbox. It’s a great, lightweight alternative to Office 365 or SharePoint for simple sharing and collaboration workloads.