Microsoft’s SkyDrive is a cloud-based storage system like Google Drive or Dropbox. You install a small app which creates a folder on your computer and keeps that folder synchronised with your SkyDrive storage. You can drag and drop files to and from that folder, or edit them online.
The SkyDrive application is available for Windows, Windows Phone, Mac, iPad and iPhone. If you aren’t using a Windows or Apple device, you can still access all of your SkyDrive folder and files by pointing your browser towards Skydrive.com.
You need a Windows Live account to use SkyDrive, but that is free. If you are planning to use SkyDrive on a Windows Vista PC you need to turn on User Account Control to install it. You can do this from User Accounts in the Control Panel.
Cloud file storage and sharing
Having your files and folders in your SkyDrive means you can access them from everywhere. It also means you can share them with people and work on them collaboratively. If you are using someone else’s computer and want a file that’s on it, you can upload it to your SkyDrive via the browser so you don’t need to copy it onto a USB flash drive and risk losing that on a train. The file will simply be there waiting for you when you get back to your office.
SkyDrive gives you 7GB of free storage. Microsoft claims that’s enough for 20,000 Office documents or 7,000 photos. For most people, that’s plenty of space. It’s 2GB more than you get with Google Drive, and 5GB more than you get with Dropbox.
If 7GB isn’t enough storage for you, you can add more storage relatively cheaply. An extra 100GB costs just £32 per year. That is cheaper than Google Drive, although Google Drive lets you go up to 16TB, whereas SkyDrive is limited to 100GB.
Microsoft makes a big deal of the security features with SkyDrive. SSL is used to encrypt your files when you upload or download them, and there are physical and electronic security measures to keep your files safe when they are on the SkyDrive servers. As well as that, multiple copies of your files are saved on different servers and hard drives to help protect your data from hardware failure.
There will always be risks involved when using cloud storage because you are placing your data into the hands of a third party. Having said that, any data you save to your SkyDrive is probably at least as well protected as the data on your own network.
What makes SkyDrive different?
Unlike Dropbox, SkyDrive is more than just a cloud-based storage solution because it also lets you edit your files. However, unlike Google Drive which forces you to use Google Docs to edit your documents, SkyDrive files can be edited offline using Microsoft Office or a compatible office suite, or edited online using Microsoft’s free Microsoft Office Web Apps.
You could argue whether it’s right that Microsoft should have a monopoly on the file formats used by businesses, but the simple fact is that they do. As such, if you want to share your documents with other businesses, sharing them in Microsoft Office format will be a better bet than attempting to share them in an alternative format.
The other advantage of using Microsoft’s Office format is that you can use view and edit your files offline on a variety of devices. Google Drive does provide an offline facility, but it is limited to viewing files only, will only work with documents and spreadsheets, and only works with Google’s Chrome browser.
Looking into the future, Microsoft’s SkyDrive will form a part of Windows 8. We still have a few months to wait before Windows 8 is released, but when that happens, SkyDrive will be an integral part of the Windows 8 experience.
SkyDrive or Google Drive?
Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Google’s Google Drive are both aiming at the same market. Both perform well at providing cloud-based storage with online viewing and editing features, although SkyDrive’s offline capabilities are better and as we have yet to reach the point where Internet access is universally available at a reasonable cost, that is important.
But the main benefit of SkyDrive over Google Drive is that SkyDrive is compatible with just about everything. The simple fact is that Microsoft Office file formats are the de facto standard. The “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” axiom applies here.
Google Drive may become a more viable proposition if Chrome OS becomes more widely accepted. Once 4G data is rolled out, that will make Google Drive more appealing as well. For the moment, though, it is difficult to see why Microsoft’s SkyDrive wouldn’t be the choice you’d make.