SkyDrive app on Windows 8.1: An exercise in frustration
With the release of Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Preview, I figured it was a good time to revisit Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service and app. Windows 8.1 touts better integration between SkyDrive and the Windows Desktop, and an improved Windows 8.1 "Modern" (or Metro-style) app. While I found the former definitely true, I found the SkyDrive app itself a mixed experience that which left me more frustrated than satisfied.
SkyDrive is Microsoft's cloud storage service, an equivalent to the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive. It's free up to 7GB, with additional storage available in tiers up to $50 per year for 100GB. As we've all become more mobile, such cloud storage services are becoming indispensible. Recently, Microsoft said it had some 250 million SkyDrive users, and counting.
However, Microsoft has set its sights higher than simply offering storage. Or offering additional collaboration tools. Microsoft seems to be setting up SkyDrive as the primary repository for all of your files. That direction was never quite as clear as it is now, with Windows 8.1's deeper integration of the SkyDrive Metro app and service.
[See also: How we used SkyDrive to write a book.]
In Windows 8.1, SkyDrive is the focal point of your files. In 8.1, SkyDrive syncs up at sign-in, and is intended to let you, in Microsoft's own words, “access all your files without worrying about hard drive size.”
Blurring The Line Between Desktop And Cloud
One of my early complaints about Windows 8 was the lack of a file browser in the new Metro app environment. Well, in Windows 8.1, Microsoft rectifies this -- but in the most unintuitive manner possible.
The new SkyDrive app for 8.1 opens directly into your SkyDrive folders. And now, through a drop-down option, you can choose to look at the files stored in SkyDrive in the cloud -- or on your local drive, through a view called This PC. The “This PC” option yields a relatively familiar folder structure, showing tiles for Documents, Music, Pictures, Videos, Desktop, Downloads, and Devices and drives.
The saving grace of this approach is that the same file interface greets you in Metro apps, too. For example, when I went to open an image in Adobe Photoshop Express, it took me to an interface that looked very similar, complete with the drop-down to change my drive and picture folder from my local PC to SkyDrive. I could easily grab an image from my SkyDrive, edit it, and save it back to my device, or to my SkyDrive. Slick. Cloud integration at work.
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