I’ve been a SkyDrive users for years, which is to say I’ve had an account and tinkered with it from time to time. Its 25GB of free online storage was generous, but without syncing or integration with Windows or the Mac OS, also largely useless. I have, though, been a daily and evangelistic user of Dropbox, a service that – perhaps more than any other – has changed the way I’ve worked over the last few years. Dropbox was what SkyDrive should have been from the jump.
But I’m happy to report that Microsoft today unveiled major, but not surprising, changes to SkyDrive that make it not only useful, but a service that Dropbox will actually have to compete with. Competition is good, though, so I’m happy not only to report the changes that Microsoft has made to its online storage service, but also improvements that will surely come from Dropbox as it responds to Microsoft’s seismic SkyDrive revamp.
Here’s what’s changed with SkyDrive:
First, and most importantly, Microsoft has freed SkyDrive from a web-only interface. New apps have been made available for PCs and Macs which allow you to access your SkyDrive from the file system. You can download SkyDrive for Windows or SkyDrive for Mac OS X Lion now. Both are “Preview” versions, i.e. in beta.
The new SkyDrive apps work much like Dropbox – install it and choose a SkyDrive folder location. Everything you put in that folder (or folders within) will be uploaded to your SkyDrive and pushed to other computers running the app. Also à la Dropbox, if you change a file in your SkyDrive folder on one computer, the change is mirrored to the others.
New SkyDrive apps for iPhone, iPad and Windows Phone have also been released, with which you can view your SkyDrive contents, download files, delete folders, share files, etc. An Android version is not available (yet?).
Second, Microsoft has dropped the free 25GB of online storage to 7GB for new users; this is still more than three times what Dropbox provides for free accounts (though you can get up to 16 additional gigabytes on Dropbox by referring users). Microsoft argues that it arrived at the 7GB allotment because of usage statistics, but it’s far more likely that capacity was slashed to keep their servers from being smoked with millions of new and existing users now easily uploading up to 25GB of data – hardly a concern when using SkyDrive was akin to navigating the Affordable Care Act.
If you’re an existing SkyDrive user, though – meaning you had a SkyDrive account before today and had actually uploaded a file – you can restore your storage to 25GB for free simply by requesting the upgrade. You can do so here, but only for a limited time. Microsoft hasn’t said just how limited that time is, so I’d get crackin’.
Third, Microsoft now offers additional paid storage for SkyDrive, and compared to Dropbox, it’s a bargain. You can get an extra 20GB for $10 a year, 50GB for $25, or 100GB for $50. Considering Dropbox’s cheapest plan is $100 a year for 50GB of extra space, they’ll shed users in a big way unless they lower prices to compete with Microsoft.
Fourth, Remote Fetch. Install the SkyDrive app on a PC and you can access all of the files on that PC from the web. Some users may not be comfortable with this capability since it essentially opens your PC’s hard drive(s) to the world, but there are security firewalls in place and it should be fairly safe. I’d hold off on turning this feature on if you have any sensitive financial or business data stored on your PC; security holes aren’t unknown to Redmond and a little time may need to pass to expose any issues.
There have also been other changes like the maximum file size limit being upped to 2GB, tweaks to the web interface, etc.
Et tu, Dropbox?
With these major changes now live, and with Google said to be launching their Google Drive service in the coming days, Dropbox will have some significant soul searching ahead. I hope this makes the entire online storage ecosystem better, and it likely will. But make no mistake: Microsoft has taken direct aim and Dropbox and similar services with this upgrade to SkyDrive, and will continue to do so with Windows 8 and future improvements to the service.
I don’t think Dropbox has to sweat much today because, storage aside, it still bests SkyDrive with features. But that may not last. And with so much extra free storage and very affordable add-on prices, Dropbox will be forced to change or decline.
Ball’s in your court Dropbox. Don’t let us down!