Ahead in the cloud? Microsoft's vision for SkyDrive in Windows 8.1

With the launch of the Windows 8.1 Preview this week, Microsoft has established new opportunities for users and developers alike. The company announced that it is opening up Bing as a development platform, allowing developers to deeply integrate Microsoft's search tools into their apps to add rich features and discovery capabilities. In addition to a vast range of new APIs, devs also have many new tools to help them create even more powerful software, such as the Visual Studio 2013 Preview, along with additional platform support from third-parties.

Consumers also have much to look forward to in Windows 8.1, with improvements that go far beyond just the return of the Start button and the ability to boot directly to the Desktop. With its updated OS, Microsoft has placed more emphasis than ever on the power of the web. Its new Internet Explorer 11 browser brings a broad range of improvements, but the new focus on the web goes beyond just viewing websites and streaming movies. Microsoft has introduced deeper integration of SkyDrive as part of its plan to encourage all users to embrace the power of the cloud. The company says it's "fully baked SkyDrive into Windows like never before", adding that "in Windows 8.1, SkyDrive is built in like no other". 

In Windows 8, the SkyDrive experience was a little frustrating. There was a Desktop sync app, which integrated with the File Explorer; and separately, there was a Modern-style app which, Microsoft admitted yesterday, was little more than a "viewer of the SkyDrive.com site". In fact, as many users of the app will have realised, it was considerably more limited than the SkyDrive site, with a lack of support for many of the features and functions that could be engaged and customised via the site itself. 

In Windows 8.1, Microsoft says that SkyDrive is now a better integrated part of the operating system, and the dichotomy between the Desktop and Modern apps no longer exists. The company says that it's mindful of the needs of users who want to have all of their files always with them, and for those files to "work seamlessly with their apps" regardless of which device they use. 

Over the last couple of decades, says Microsoft, we've moved from storing our important documents in filing cabinets, and photos in physicals albums, gradually embracing digital copies and computer-driven workflows. But even the way that we use devices has changed; initially, many users would have a computer at work and a single desktop at home, with files being shared between these occasionally on physical media such as floppy discs. But the explosion in mobile computing, and the ubiquity of notebooks, tablets and increasingly capable smartphones has changed the way we access our documents, photos, music and videos. What users are now demanding, the company says, is the ability to safely access their files wherever they may be: "All your files, secure, and private by default."

The reality, as it stands, is that many users end up with their files scattered everywhere, of course. Multiple copies of files end up on various devices; music collections end up incomplete on one device or another; the experience is imperfect and frustrating. 

With SkyDrive in Windows 8.1, Microsoft aims to transform the user experience, making the use of centralised cloud storage the norm, rather than an occasional, infrequent, incomplete back-up. For example, the default option to save files in Office on Windows 8.1 (as in Windows 8) is SkyDrive; users have to change that location if they want to store it locally. 

Microsoft has also optimised the OS to offer a more seamless experience when syncing between devices. In a demo at BUILD, the example was given of a user with around 130GB of files stored on SkyDrive, including documents, photos and videos. Obviously, this is too large to sync to many devices like smartphones and tablets, which typically feature 16GB or 32GB of local storage. 

SkyDrive in Windows 8.1 automatically syncs the file and folder structure of your online storage, including thumbnails and properties, meaning that - even the files aren't synced, you can still preview them as if they were, and - if a connection is available - they can be easily downloaded or streamed to the local device. So far, so average. 

But Microsoft has gone further in making it possible to search through files - including searching for words and phrases in text documents that are stored in the cloud - even when no web connection is available. If your train has gone into a tunnel and interrupted your cellular connection, you'll still be able to search for that document or photo on SkyDrive, ready to open or download when your connection is restored. 

This is made possibly through the way that SkyDrive manages synchronisation in Windows 8.1; even if you've only specified that just a few small folders of content be synchronised fully between all of your devices, SkyDrive will still be able to sync the full index of all of your stored files, properties, thumbnails and a subset of compressed data, which takes up around 1% of the actual size of your files. 

In Microsoft's demo, it showed that the index of properties, thumbnails and other key data related to the 130GB of files stored on SkyDrive, but which weren't synchronised to a tablet, for example, took up just 1.34GB on that device. 

Microsoft's aim here is simple. It wants people to treat the cloud as the default for storing their files, and the best way to do that is to make the process as natural and seamless as possible for them. That means not having to manage complex settings, not having to juggle one Modern app and another on the Desktop, and breaking down other barriers that have so far dissuaded users from moving to the cloud. 

The company is also, of course, hoping to migrate users to some of its paid SkyDrive storage solutions. While the company gives away 7GB of storage to all users, that doesn't quite compare to the massive volumes of files that many users now have. But with 100GB of additional SkyDrive space priced at around $50 a year, the cost of moving files to the cloud shouldn't prove prohibitive for many users. As Microsoft continues its shift to becoming a "devices and services company", the company will no doubt be hoping that sales of annual storage subscriptions will become its next billion-dollar business. 

The company wasn't discussing any of that at BUILD, keeping the focus solely on the consumer benefits of migrating their data to SkyDrive. Microsoft says its great hope is for users to say: "I used to save to C: drive; now I save to SkyDrive." 

Let's just hope that's not their marketing slogan.

Businessman with cabinet files image via Shutterstock

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I tried to use skydrive but it kept duplicating my files-such as home, work, etc. Therefore, I just went back to dropbox. Never had that issue with dropbox. Skydrive was just making a mess out of my files.

Still unusable as far as I'm concerned, thanks to Microsoft's continuing Taliban-esque "no nudity of any sort" policy - I see this still takes pride of place at the top of the "Prohibited Uses," ahead of incitement to racial hatred and "gratuitous" violence (I take it "non-gratuitous violence" is perfectly fine).

It's beyond ridiculous that I can't share snapshots of my kids playing in the bath with my family, even in my so-called "private" folders, or post an image of a Modigliani nude hanging in the Louvre, without risking my entire account and all its content being summarily deleted without warning. Presumably if I was autosyncing with my local content, I'd lose that too.

For god's sake grow up Microsoft.

edit: just noticed the guy above said pretty much the same thing...

I agree. I don't know why they care what we keep in our own private files. I understand it's free but why do they care and why are they even going through our files in the first place?

I don't think that anyone could argue that being able to leverage the power of cloud storage is a good thing. I use Skydrive everyday and it is my de-facto save location for everything related to my masters degree.

However this whole idea of making the Skydrive the default save location might be an issue got less-savy users, or those with less attention-span.

For example, just the other day I was taking pictures of my infant son to send it to his grandparents. One of the pictures was him taking a bath on his birthday suit. Now imagine if such picture is saved on Skydrive by default and Microsoft decide to ban my account accusing me of violating its term of use.

pmdci said,
I don't think that anyone could argue that being able to leverage the power of cloud storage is a good thing [...]

I meant to say that I don't think that anyone could argue that being able to leverage the power of cloud storage ISN'T a good thing. Sorry for the typo

What? Another feature that require the system to be connected to the internet always? I demand to be able to access my files whenever I want without being connected to the internet.

I'm going to start a huge campaign to show the masses how Microsoft is pushing people into the internet age, forcing everyone to be "always on". Whats next? Forced registration of who I want to share my files with?

End sarcasm.

.. Or that's what I imagine random gamers will get out of this anyway.

Personally I'm loving this!

Love SkyDrive and love the Windows 8.1 Integration, BUT:

- Microsoft should make SkyDrive the default folder, when opening Explorer and not "This PC"
- Microsoft should remove the local folders labeled the same like the SkyDrive folders, especially when they are openend as default in Explorer. At least there should be an option to disable them.

I'm normally fairly critical of Microsoft, but I've been pleasantly surprised by skydrive (so far anyway). This is just another reason I want to give W8 another chance.

Oh.. its all fad... one major hack on skydrive or glitch in server.. there goes your stuff. Those who wants to use it good for them, those who don't good for them too. I am content myself trusting my local drives and flash drive.

Yeah, it sucks that cloud storage providers never think about redundancy or backups like us normal users do.

/s

whatever man.. I got 3TB local back up drive and another 2 TB for backup of backup. Now I don't think, I can be more safe than that. If you wanna backup 3 TB on skydrive then good for you. Hope you don't get falsely accused on having illegal pictures or copyright materials and get your account banned and then there goes your back up out of sky to black hole.

Auditor said,
whatever man.. I got 3TB local back up drive and another 2 TB for backup of backup. Now I don't think, I can be more safe than that. If you wanna backup 3 TB on skydrive then good for you. Hope you don't get falsely accused on having illegal pictures or copyright materials and get your account banned and then there goes your back up out of sky to black hole.

More power to you.

Auditor said,
whatever man.. I got 3TB local back up drive and another 2 TB for backup of backup. Now I don't think, I can be more safe than that. If you wanna backup 3 TB on skydrive then good for you. Hope you don't get falsely accused on having illegal pictures or copyright materials and get your account banned and then there goes your back up out of sky to black hole.

Let hope no-one steals your drives or you home catches fire....

StrikedOut said,

Let hope no-one steals your drives or you home catches fire....

Oh jeez.. if things become that bad that my home catches fire then protecting HD will be least of my worry.

That's not really the point. If it's not a big deal to you, okay, but local only backups aren't ideal. At our office, the rule is online/offsite. Rather that's tape or Crashplan doesn't matter. The point is that we can restore in any circumstance.

For an individual, that doesn't matter as much. For business, it does. However, as an individual, offsite is going to be plenty. As someone else said, more power to you if you want to manage your own backup. But it's going to be cheaper and more reliable for most people to rely on something like Skydrive or Dropbox.

Anyways, I don't think the hostility is because you backup your own stuff. The hostility is because you don't seem to understand how great cloud storage really is (for us).

Shadowzz said,
Today I found out that through skydrive.live.com I can access all my computer files

Needs cell phone verification though.

If you turn out two factor/stage authentication then you get that extra layer of protection. Of course you can select which PCs actually give you access to those files to, iirc. But once you set a PC as a "trusted PC" then it's pretty much linked online.

Shadowzz said,
Today I found out that through skydrive.live.com I can access all my computer files

Needs cell phone verification though.

Does this still work on the 8.1 preview? I am not able to get to my 8.1 Preview computer through the skydrive site. Also the desktop Skydrive app seems to be gone after the upgrade.

JK75 said,
Also the desktop Skydrive app seems to be gone after the upgrade.

Because it's now integrated in to 8.1. If you enabled SkyDrive during installation it will already be on the Desktop (inside File Explorer).

This is amazing. I honestly can't wait :-D

One thing (not featured related) that I'd love to see them add is bigger storage purchase plans. Their highest plan is not enough for a full backup solution. So I'd love to see them add larger (possibly even an 'unlimited') storage purchase option.

Me too! I'd love to have SkyDrive as my only cloud solution. Currently I have to use SugarSync because of the relatively large amount of data in my cloud. I also prefer SugarSync's option to sync any folder from it's current location without having to have all cloud files under a separate SkyDrive master folder. Another reason I don't like Dropbox.

Been using cloud storage as my main file storage solution for a while, started with dropbox and when skydrive was updated last year (i think it was last year) I switched, grabbing hold of my free 25GB.

Unfortunately, i have problems sometimes when files are duplicated, which is what skydrive does when i've changed the file on 2 machines without syncing, though I haven't done such a thing, something must just trigger one file to think it's changed but hasn't.

Would love to see a feature though that would allow me to forcefully push a folder up without having to wait for it to do so. I'm uploading about 400mb to my skydrive right now, and I have no power over which folders it sends first.

Happy_Camel said,
Been using cloud storage as my main file storage solution for a while, started with dropbox and when skydrive was updated last year (i think it was last year) I switched, grabbing hold of my free 25GB.

Unfortunately, i have problems sometimes when files are duplicated, which is what skydrive does when i've changed the file on 2 machines without syncing, though I haven't done such a thing, something must just trigger one file to think it's changed but hasn't.

Would love to see a feature though that would allow me to forcefully push a folder up without having to wait for it to do so. I'm uploading about 400mb to my skydrive right now, and I have no power over which folders it sends first.

What AV Software are you using on both machines?

im thinking yes because box is also being integrated into windows 8 and windows phone 8, so they must be using the same api im guessing though.

I love how SkyDrive is now integrated inside the Desktop's File Explorer on 8.1 (if you enable SkyDrive on install). Think this is a killer feature.

It will also please Win RT users as you couldn't install the Desktop SkyDrive program before, but now it's integrated this fixes that.

NoClipMode said,
It will also please Win RT users as you couldn't install the Desktop SkyDrive program before, but now it's integrated this fixes that.

I was waiting for this feature
I just hope it adds the ability to Sync folders (like the screen shots folder for example) without having to have only 1 central folder to sync

brent3000 said,

I just hope it adds the ability to Sync folders (like the screen shots folder for example) without having to have only 1 central folder to sync

Well i'm using it now and you can sync folders and individual files So it's actually better than the SkyDrive program, which only lets you sync folders.

brent3000 said,

I was waiting for this feature
I just hope it adds the ability to Sync folders (like the screen shots folder for example) without having to have only 1 central folder to sync

Yes you have far more control, in the modern app you simply right click anything you want to sync and select make offline - that could be a root folder or a subfolder or file, its pretty dam good.

You'll see all your files in explorer, with the synced files having a sync icon on them. The un synced files will simply stream when opened and stay synced.