Microsoft has released a major update to its SkyDrive cloud storage platform, allowing users to sync their entire SkyDrive to a folder on their computer. This long-awaited feature finally empowers users to store files on a local machine while taking advantage of the power and flexibility provided by SkyDrive, including easy access to files on mobile devices and tablets. Other improvements to the free service include fetching, as well as the ability to upgrade to a paid plan for additional storage.
The preview app of SkyDrive for the Windows desktop is designed to work on Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista in 106 different languages. The best thing about the app, aside from the actual ability to sync SkyDrive folders to a computer, is its simplicity. Installation is very fast, and the app runs quietly in the background. Power users looking to store all of their documents, photos, and more in the cloud are encouraged to use the Libraries feature in Windows 7 and Windows 8 to point to sub-directories in the local SkyDrive folder. SkyDrive for the Windows desktop only works on x86/x64 devices, but smartphones and tablets of all sorts will be able to access SkyDrive via dedicated apps on Windows 8, Windows Phone, Android, iPhone, and iPad. It also supports OS X Lion as well.
By default, new SkyDrive users will be given 7GB of free space–more than any other cloud storage service. Of course, Microsoft understands that many users will require much more space, so there’s an option to upgrade the amount of available storage for a small, competitively priced annual fee: $10 adds 20GB to SkyDrive’s baseline free storage, $25 tacks on an additional 50GB, and $50 ups the total storage by a whopping 100GB. Current users might wonder what happened to the old 25GB of free storage. Yes, it’s dropping to 7GB–according to Microsoft’s metrics, 99.94% of people used less than 7GB anyway–but existing accounts can opt in to keep their 25GB permanently.
Of course, users might not want to store everything on SkyDrive. This is where the new ability to fetch files comes in handy. It lets users browse the entire file structure of any connected computers from SkyDrive’s web interface. Users can view images, play videos, copy files to SkyDrive, or download files to a local machine directly from this interface, provided the remote machine is turned on and connected to the internet. The whole experience, from start to finish, is very slick. This feature isn’t exactly new–longtime Microsoft watchers might remember doing this in Windows Live FolderShare back in the day–but it’s a very welcome addition to the service.
With today’s update, SkyDrive has gone from being a great cloud storage service to one of the best, if not the best. The ability to sync files remotely is a huge benefit for consumers, and features like fetch and premium storage tiers give power users the flexibility and tools they need. More importantly, these changes make it that much easier for users to access all of their files on a tablet without compromise. Competitors like Dropbox and the upcoming Google Drive had better watch out–Microsoft is playing to win.