In Outlook.com Mail: Microsoft Reimagines Webmail, I discuss Microsoft’s new email service, which comes with a set of associated services, including People, Calendar, and, yes, an update to the SkyDrive storage service. If you’ve seen the SkyDrive app for Windows 8, the new look and feel of SkyDrive on the web will come as no surprise to you at all. But regardless, it’s much a much nicer way to browse your cloud-based files from the web.
I think it’s fair to say that SkyDrive’s previous web interface was fairly successful … at scaring off users. It wasn’t until I became aware of Microsoft’s deep integration plans for SkyDrive across its ecosystem—with Windows (through both shell integration and, in Windows 8, for settings sync), Office 2013, Windows Phone, Xbox, and more—that I even considered using this service seriously. But with these changes, I’ve become a convert, and while I’ve written a lot about SkyDrive this year, be sure to at least check out 2012: A Cloud Odyssey - From Live Mesh to SkyDrive for a peek at how I’ve begun integrating SkyDrive into my daily workflow. Virtually everything important I do, both work-related and personal, is pushed through this service now.
But through this change, the web interface … well, it’s remained pretty horrid. A lot of my work-related SkyDrive stuff occurs through Explorer shell integration courtesy of the SkyDrive application for Windows, and of course OneNote 2010 and now all of Office 2013 offers deep integration with SkyDrive too. (As does auto photo uploading from Windows Phone and other services.) So I’ve been able to safely ignore the SkyDrive web interface and its many limitations for the most part.
Now, that may now longer be a concern.
Consider the SkyDrive app for Windows 8. It’s clean, clear, and modern looking with a nice Metro-style UI. Why can’t the web interface look this good?
Well. Maybe it can. Here’s the new version of SkyDrive, showing the same view (from the top level of my own SkyDrive account).
If you compare this to today’s SkyDrive, virtually all of the same options are there, but the new version still manages to look cleaner and fresh, with that Metro-like UI from the Windows 8 app. (Microsoft should be commended for doing the “fierce reduction” thing and hiding some UI elements that are currently visible, including the right-mounted column that provides options for selected items.)
Aside from the look and feel, all the familiar elements from SkyDrive are still present. You can view (your own) files, recently-accessed documents, or shared documents. You can create and access groups for sharing with others via SkyDrive. You can access your connected PCs and devices using Remote Fetch. And you can of course use (the new, and currently in beta version of) Office Web Apps, with web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
(I previously wrote about this new version of Office Web Apps in Office 2013 Public Preview: Office Web Apps. The new SkyDrive features the same version.)
Navigation hasn’t changed much, and while SkyDrive now uses an attractive, tile-based UI by default, those pining for the previous list view can optionally change to that if they’d like. Pictures-based folders (this version of SkyDrive still supports just Documents and Pictures types) offer nice slideshow options, as before, as well.
And while uploading is no easier than before, sharing seems simpler, with another one of those nice, full-screen, Windows 8-style interfaces. It’s accessible from a new Share Folder option from the top-mounted toolbar.
And of course, SkyDrive integrates nicely with Outlook.com, as it does currently with Hotmail as well. When you try to send an attachment that’s too large, Outlook.com Mail will offer to upload the file(s) to SkyDrive instead and send your recipient(s) a link to download from there.
But wait, there’s more
As with the new People experience in Outlook.com, more is coming. Microsoft general manager Brian Hall told me that it had to release this update a bit earlier than the company might have otherwise because of the Mail integration pieces but that we can expect more changes in the months ahead, including, as I’ve suggested, support for other file types in SkyDrive folders.