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Microsoft Revamps SkyDrive Cloud Storage Service

Microsoft rolled out an upgrade of Windows Live SkyDrive -- its free consumer-oriented cloud storage and file-sharing service -- on Monday.

According to Microsoft's announcement, the upgrade's aim was to make SkyDrive easier to use for Microsoft's "1 billion Windows customers." The upgrade includes an improved file directory user interface, which no longer has a summary screen and advertisements. The interface is now more Windows-like, with a single place to view file information and share files.

SkyDrive also got a new photo album screen. Photo browsing can now be done faster due to Microsoft's use of technologies like hardware-accelerated graphics, HTML 5 and CSS 3 in the update. Users can view photos in landscape and portrait formats, and appear proportional to their original aspect ratios.

Internet Explorer 9 users can pin SkyDrive to the Windows 7 taskbar, making it as accessible as an application. However, this pinning feature does not work for IE 9 users running Windows Vista.

SkyDrive gives users up to 25 GB of free cloud-based storage for files, lets users play back H.264-based videos that are up to 100 MB in size, and allows uploads of photos that are up to 50 MB in size.

Many observers have noted that SkyDrive and the associated Office Web Apps -- free browser-based versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word -- are limited compared to the premises-based Office suite and saving files to a PC's hard drive.

Microsoft says it took an "iterative approach" with its SkyDrive upgrades, and noted that there's much room for improvement.

"There are parts of the [SkyDrive] experience like creating a new album, uploading, renaming files, sharing, and editing permissions that are also scheduled to get a makeover soon," stated Omar Shahine, group program manager for SkyDrive.com, in Microsoft's announcement.

File sharing is accomplished in SkyDrive by either sending a link to another person via e-mail or by setting permissions on a file. Files can be set for public access or just for certain users to access. The SkyDrive service enables simultaneous editing (two people working on the same document at the same time) only with the Excel Office Web App.

Users of Vista Service Pack 2 or Windows 7 also have access to the free Windows Live Essentials 2011, a collection of seven applications that sync up to SkyDrive using the Windows Live Mesh service. Windows Live Mesh connects users to 5 GB of free storage when used with SkyDrive. Microsoft used to have another sync service called Windows Live Sync but that service was dropped. According to a Twitter post noted by veteran Microsoft observer Mary-Jo Foley, the updated SkyDrive has a new link that lets users view folders on SkyDrive that have been synched up via Windows Live Mesh.

Microsoft also envisions promoting the SkyDrive service for use with other devices, such as Windows Phone 7-based smartphones. The next Windows Phone 7 "Mango" operating system upgrade, expected this fall, will add SkyDrive access for those smartphones. SkyDrive access will allow Windows Phone 7 users to share photos from their phones via e-mail, text or the Messenger/Facebook service, a Microsoft blog explains. 

Microsoft announced earlier this month that its process for phasing out the aging Windows Mobile 6.x includes moving users of that smartphone OS to SkyDrive (see "Microsoft Details Windows Mobile 6.x Phaseout Plans").

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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