Its had a change of name, but this still offers the best storage option to Windows users
While Microsoft’s corporate cloud offerings focus heavily on Office 365 and SharePoint, its OneDrive Cloud Storage product (previously known as SkyDrive) is rapidly becoming the glue that holds Office 2013, Windows 8.1 PCs and Windows 8 or Windows RT tablets together. 7GB is available free with a Microsoft account, and this can easily be upgraded by 50, 100 or 200GB for £16 to £64 per year, which is a bargain by anyone’s standards.
SkyDrive mirrors the style of Windows Phone 8, Windows RT and Windows 8.1, giving it a consistent look across PCs, tablets and phones, and it still works perfectly well on Windows 7. Windows 8 and Windows RT users can use the built-in SkyDrive app to view, upload and share files, documents and photos, while a SkyDrive desktop app for Windows 8.1, Windows 7 and Windows Vista syncs your local SkyDrive folder with your SkyDrive in the cloud.
Files aren’t actually synced and downloaded automatically across all your client devices – the app now downloads on demand, while intelligently caching the most important or frequently used files – but that’s not a bad decision when some tablets and SSD-equipped laptops come with relatively low amounts of local storage. What’s more, if you know you need constant, offline access to a file or folder, you can simply mark it ‘Make Offline’ in the context-sensitive toolbar. Files you’ve created or opened on a device before are automatically marked for offline use.
Even used in isolation, SkyDrive is an impressive service. Office files stored on SkyDrive can be viewed and even edited from within the browser, with the appropriate Office Web Apps loading to let you make simple edits. You can save files straight back out to SkyDrive, and there’s no need to mess around with importing and exporting files as you have to do with Google Drive. The look and feel of the Web Apps is very similar to their Office 2013 equivalents, though many of the more advanced features have been removed. Some users will find that they don’t even need the desktop Office applications, while having the Office Web Apps accessible on most systems and most browsers is a real boon to anyone working across multiple devices and/or operating systems.
Features for sharing media are just as exemplary, with built-in photo, video and audio playback facilities. Images can be viewed as slideshows, and you can get details like EXIF data and tags on photos that other cloud storage services don’t offer. Versioning is supported, and the Version History feature means you can browse through earlier versions if you need to return a file to an earlier form. Files and folders can be shared with other users by right-clicking on them, selecting Share and emailing a link. Alternatively, you can post the link to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or generate code to embed the file on a web page.
To make things even easier, SkyDrive links now enable anyone with a compatible browser to edit your Skydrive hosted document with or without a SkyDrive account, though it’s still possible – and perhaps more sensible – to send an email invitation that requires them to sign in.
The real benefit of using SkyDrive is that it’s now so heavily tied into Windows 8.1 and Office 2013. Office 2013 now makes a user’s SkyDrive account the default place for saving new documents. In Office 2010, saving to SkyDrive was always a bit of a faff, but in Office 2013 it’s actually easier than saving a file to local storage. Meanwhile, all Windows 8.1 apps and many Windows desktop applications now allow you to save direct to SkyDrive from the file picker, making it a virtual no-brainer. Provided you’re happy with SkyDrive’s security, there’s no reason not to use it as a file repository, keeping your Office documents and other work files synced across multiple PCs and backed up in the cloud.
SkyDrive uses SSL to encrypt files during transport, but files are unencrypted once at rest on Microsoft’s servers. Given that Microsoft’s servers are themselves heavily secured this might not be a concern, but it leaves SkyDrive behind Box.com in this respect. SkyDrive is still a little slow to upload files, taking just under two hours to upload 511MB of test files, but download speeds were more acceptable at 37 minutes, while changed files synced from PC to PC in less than sixty seconds.
If you use Windows 8.1 and Office 2013 – and particularly if you’re working across multiple Windows 8.1 PCs and tablets – then using SkyDrive makes good sense. You practically forget that you’re using it. The 7GB of storage supplied will be adequate for many small businesses, and if it isn’t then the extra 50GB or 100GB won’t break the bank.
For those using Windows 7 and/or Office 2010 it’s still a good choice, with an excellent feature set, a simple interface and affordable pricing. If you’re standardising on Windows devices, SkyDrive should be your cloud-storage platform of choice, and with good support across iOS and Android, too, it’s not a bad one for multi-platform organisations.
The best cloud storage service for businesses standardising on Windows devices, with a lot of capacity for not much cash.
This article was originally published on 23/09/13 (most recently on 23/12/15) and has been updated to reflect new information and the rebranding of Microsoft's product.
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