Microsoft has offered SkyDrive as a cloud storage solution for years, but it wasn’t until Windows 8 that people really started noticing the service, while Apple’s iCloud, Amazon’s Cloud Drive, and Google Drive have taken a great portion of the market.
Now things have changed. SkyDrive is more integrated to Windows 8.1 than ever before, practically is part of the operating system (although it’s worth noting that it is still an app). After upgrading to 8.1, you won’t need to install anything, and the new version of the app addresses many of the shortcomings that deal with giving more control to the user on what to sync, managing the available storage space, and ditching the SkyDrive desktop app from the equation.
At first glance the SkyDrive app looks almost identical to the previous version, but one noticeable change in Windows 8.1 is the ability to browse cloud-stored and local files in the PC. The app itself continues pretty simple to use, the thumbnails has been streamlined for better management, and the App commands has more options than before including an easier way to Rename and Delete, there are new options such as Cut, Copy, Paste, Make online-only (or Make offline), and the Upload options has been replaced with Add items.
Browsing the cloud and local documents are exactly the same and everything works as you should expect. Both experiences have almost the same options, you can change the views to Thumbnails or List, the only thing different is that the SkyDrive has a few additional options.
You can browse all the files stored in the cloud, but in this new version, you can also use the drop-down menu, in the top-left corner of the screen, and select This PC to browse files in your computer.
The only missing option I noticed was the “upload to SkyDrive” option while browsing local files, but copying a file, then switching back to the SkyDrive app and pasting the file will automatically upload file.
Microsoft also made sure that the cloud service app is consistent throughout the operating system, as such you can access files stored in the cloud from virtually any app, including Xbox Music, Video, Mail, Photos, and of course from Microsoft Office desktop apps.
What is interesting is that opening a file will start the corresponding app, but when opening an image, it will not open in the Photo app, instead it’ll open an image viewer which surprisingly looks exactly the same as the Photo app. Probably it is the app, but the Task Manager doesn’t show a related process running.
Now there are three ways to get access to the SkyDrive app, from the File Explorer, Start screen, and even from Command Prompt. And even though, Microsoft is trying to keep things simple to access files while in the Metro-styled environment, the only way to access local files is through the SkyDrive app, (changing the view from the menu to “This PC”), which can be a little confusing to some users — but it’s easy to understand that the software maker wants users to get more cloud dependent –.
For example, if you want to browse for a file on an specific drive, but you want to do this from the Start screen, you need to open the SkyDrive app, change the view to This PC, and access the Devices and Drive tile. (I think we still need a Metro-styled version of File Explorer with access to SkyDrive files.)
Another change is the integration of the new SkyDrive folder in the File Explorer, but perhaps one of the most overlooked feature is that the Document library uses the SkyDrive location to store files in the cloud. This means that unless you change the default settings, every document you save to the Document library will get sync up to the cloud.
Now here is the kicker, the SkyDrive folder doesn’t waste too much of the computer’s hard drive space when syncing files from different devices. You can easily see this when inspecting the folder, all files look like as if they were completely synced. They have their corresponding thumbnails, sizes, and every piece of metadata, but looking into the properties shows that files coming from a different device do not use much of disk space — Microsoft call them placeholders files (The image below shows what I’m talking about).
The magic happens when you open the file, which will automatically trigger on-demand download of the full version of the file, which opens normally with its corresponding app — Pretty cool, right? This indeed further reduce the use local storage, saves bandwidth on metered networks, and this is great for mobile devices like tablets and phones. But of course if you want to make a file or folder available offline from the File Explorer, you can simply right-click the item and select Make available offline.
SkyDrive app Settings
Storage space, where you can view the space available in the cloud service and from here you can also buy more storage.
Right now Microsoft is offering 7GB of free SkyDrive storage, which is a lot more you can get for free from Apple’s iCloud or Dropbox, but if you had your account for a long time, you probably were able to score the 25GB of free storage.
File contains the options to set SkyDrive as your default storage to save files, Camera roll folder, and Metered connections options to control bandwidth used on billed networks.
Sync settings is the place where you can enable or disable the options to sync PC settings across devices, including Start screen (tiles and layouts), Appearance (colors, background, lock screen, and account pictures), Desktop personalization (themes, taskbar, etc.). App settings such as installed apps (only modern apps, not desktop programs), app data. And other settings like Web Browser (favorites, open tabs, home pages, history, and settings), passwords, language preferences, File Explorer, mouse, printer, and more.
Without a doubt the SkyDrive app is the best cloud storage experience in Windows 8.1, and thanks to Microsoft sync technology, it’s possible to sync hundreds of gigabytes just in a few moments, regardless of the internet connection. Users get a good amount of free space just by signing-up to a Microsoft account, and the SkyDrive app integration with the operating system is the best we’ve ever seen.
But… There is always room for improvement. For example, I would like to see the option to allow users change the SkyDrive app root folder location, selective sync is missing, and some sort of quota to limit the amount of space SkyDrive can use on a device could be a good addition, even more when we have mobile devices like Surface that don’t have a lot of on-board storage. Have you been using SkyDrive in Windows 8.1? What’s your take?