SkyDrive – a Microsoft service which provides users with a Windows Live ID 25GB of free online storage – has been available in some form for years. In that time, the service has seen several significant changes, expansions and improvements, but one aspect of SkyDrive has remained the largely unchanged: getting files onto and off of your SkyDrive from a PC is a pain in the ass. Even today, without buggy workarounds or third-party apps, you’re left with only a frustrating web interface to access your SkyDrive. This greatly reduces the service’s utility; I’ve used my SkyDrive storage infrequently over the years due solely to this limitation.
But Microsoft has seen the light through the cloud, so to speak, and is finally updating the service to function as a Windows drive. This and other changes to SkyDrive are coming alongside the rollout of Windows 8, due later this year.
Windows 8 users will be able to access SkyDrive both from the Metro interface (below, top) and in Windows Explorer (below, bottom):
This means you’ll be able to use your SkyDrive storage just as you would any other local storage medium: hard drive, SSD, or USB-attached storage device. And it appears similar access – at least from Windows Explorer – is coming for Windows 7 and Windows Vista at some point in the not-too-distant future as an add-on feature, likely via Windows Live Essentials.
Remote Fetch & More
Another feature of SkyDrive that greatly increases its value is a surprise, Remote Fetch. With it, your entire Windows 8 PC becomes part of SkyDrive, not in terms of Cloud-storage, but Cloud-access:
With SkyDrive in Windows 8, you won’t just have cloud files synced to your PC. You can also turn your entire PC into your own private cloud, and use its terabytes of local storage to easily access, browse, and stream your files from anywhere by simply fetching them from SkyDrive.com.
So, if you have a file on your PC that isn’t on your SkyDrive, you can still access the file via the web from another PC (with the proper credentials and authorization, of course). This, in effect, shares all data on your PC via SkyDrive, making your locally-stored files accessible from any location. You can also direct a remote file to be uploaded to SkyDrive using this feature.
Other new SkyDrive features will include file support up to 2GB, additional paid storage ($10/year for an extra 20GB, etc.), a Mac OS client, PC settings sync, seamless Windows 8 logon integration, iCloud-style availability of software across PCs, and more.
Having 25GB of free, online storage has always been a nice perk offered by Microsoft, but with these changes the service will become part of the Windows experience rather than an annoyingly-limited bonus feature.
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview will apparently include at least some aspects of these new SkyDrive features. It’ll be available for download at the end of the month.