Clearing up the confusion about SkyDrive vs. SkyDrive Pro

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Microsoft's SkyDrive service has gained a lot of traction over the past couple of years, given that it works well across numerous platforms (including Gmail and Xbox 360) and is easy to use. With Office 2013 and Office 365, Microsoft introduced a SkyDrive Pro service that is oriented toward businesses and enterprises.

There's a ton of confusion about exactly what SkyDrive Pro and SkyDrive really are, especially when you rate them against each other. (As usual, the Microsoft branding machine confuses perfectly good and functional software with names that are impossible to parse.)

Let's take a few minutes to cover exactly what each service is and what their limitations are.

SkyDrive Pro: The Basics

SkyDrive Pro, put simply, is a business storage space for individual users. SkyDrive Pro is a feature and capability that comes from a SharePoint Server 2013 Enterprise license--a license that you can buy either to run on servers in your own datacenter premises or access through a subscription to Office 365 on a monthly or annual basis.

SkyDrive Pro works and is available in both places, and it even functions the same way no matter where you run it, but the key part to remember is that it is a function of SharePoint and nothing else. It has absolutely no relationship to the free service of a very similar name that's discussed below.

Here are six key points to remember when thinking about SkyDrive Pro:

SkyDrive Pro is a user-focused solution. It's not a way to migrate a ton of documents and other data from file systems stored on your network to SharePoint to make those elements available to all. Rather, it's a place for users to store documents they care about that would be convenient to access from a variety of devices and places.

SkyDrive Pro is essentially a replacement to the old My Site feature in SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. It's a place for users to store files they might want to share with others in the future. For instance, you might be working on a budget spreadsheet that needs constant updating, so you could save a copy to your SkyDrive Pro location and invite other users to read, view and update that copy on their own.

With SkyDrive Pro on Office 365, each user gets 7 GB of space that is not counted against the overall SharePoint storage quota (which is part of the plan you pay for). For SharePoint Server 2013 on-premises installations, administrators can configure the SkyDrive Pro space quota on an individual basis. While you can purchase add-on space to pool more available gigabytes for your overall SharePoint sites and workspaces on Office 365, you can't currently buy more storage to extend SkyDrive Pro spaces. (This may well change in the future, though.)

[See also: Office 365 - Your Burning Questions, Answered]

There is a SkyDrive Pro client application, but at this point it's available only as part of the Office 2013 suite. If you don't have an Office 2013 license, you're forced to use SkyDrive Pro through the browser just like most of your interactions with other parts of the SharePoint product.

The SkyDrive Pro client application behaves like the old SharePoint Workspace client application. It synchronizes the online content with an offline cache so you can still access files, documents and other objects from the site just like you were online, even if you are stuck without a connection somewhere.

Finally, as of this writing SkyDrive Pro works only for Windows and Web browsers. There are no native client applications for other operating systems.

It's also worth noting that SkyDrive Pro is definitely not a free-for-all when it comes to data storage. Microsoft has imposed the following limitations:

  • In your SkyDrive Pro library, you can synchronize up to 20,000 items, including folders and files.
  • No single file can be greater than 250 MB in size.
  • You can download files up to 2 GB from your library.

If you're running Office 2013 and feel like you need to wait to explain SkyDrive Pro to users, you can remove the hooks within Windows Explorer that expose the space. Just issue the following command at the elevated administrative command prompt:

regsvr32 /u "%programfiles%\Microsoft Office\Office15\GROOVEEX.DLL"

SkyDrive: The Completely Different Service of Nearly the Same Name

SkyDrive--referred to hereafter as SkyDrive Free to prevent confusion--is a consumer service provided by Microsoft that works a lot like Dropbox. It provides up to 7 GB of free cloud storage where users can upload files that are then accessible from either a Web browser or any Internet connected device where the appropriate client side extensions are installed. (Consumers can part with some money for even more space above what's allowed on the free tier.)

These client extensions are available for the Windows desktop, through the Windows Store (for Windows 8 and Windows RT devices), for the Windows Phone and on iOS, Android and Mac OS devices. If you or your users use the OneNote note-taking application that's included with most versions of Microsoft Office, the synchronization of notebooks and data that's possible within the application is made possible by data being stored in a user's SkyDrive Free space.

To make things even more confusing, an extra 20 GB of SkyDrive Free storage space is granted to users who subscribe to Office 365 Home Premium plans. Office 365 Home Premium, despite being an Office 365 product/service, has nothing to do with SkyDrive Pro. This extra SkyDrive Free space is not granted to any other Office 365 subscription plan--and there's currently no way to increase the SkyDrive Pro space on Office 365 beyond the 7 GB quota.

Here are four takeaways when thinking about SkyDrive Free:

There's no corporate control over what's stored on SkyDrive Free. Other than preventing the client extensions from being installed on corporate-owned devices and blocking access to skydrive.com from your Internet connection, there's no other way IT can control what a user stores on SkyDrive Free.

In Office 2013, SkyDrive Free is the default location where users are prompted to save documents and other objects. SkyDrive Pro spaces are not the default.

SkyDrive Free has absolutely nothing to do with SharePoint, won't work with either SharePoint Workspace 2010 or SkyDrive Pro client applications, and can be used by shops that have no link to SharePoint whatsoever--even all-Mac shops with no Windows machines at all.

Finally, SkyDrive Free does not support advanced functionality such as document versioning, file alerts, quick preview and deeper Office client integration. That's all exclusively reserved for SkyDrive Pro spaces.

The idea behind both SkyDrive services is the same--a place to store documents, files and other things so they're available from multiple places. But SkyDrive Pro is clearly oriented at businesses and provides enterprise features that are useful for collaboration, while SkyDrive Free is a consumer service available to anyone, for free, across a wide variety of platforms.

Confusing? Yes. But now you know the differences.

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a consulting firm based out of Charlotte. He's also an editor with Apress Media LLC.

This story, "Clearing up the confusion about SkyDrive vs. SkyDrive Pro" was originally published by CIO.

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