This week, some new upgrades to SkyDrive were revealed just before Google revealed their “Drive” cloud storage service. Many sites gave the Google Drive service a lot more coverage than the SkyDrive upgrade, but most users and commenters were able to realize that SkyDrive is much better than Google Drive, DropBox, and many other cloud services. Sure, there are a few things that it doesn’t do as well, and those may be deal-breakers for a few people, but lets start by talking about what it does do well.
First off is the pricing. If you had ever used SkyDrive before, you still get the option to keep your 25 GB of storage for free. New users only get 7 GB for free, but that’s still larger than the free offering from Google Drive and DropBox. All of these services offer pricing plans for upgrading the storage, but SkyDrive is by far the least expensive.
The next very useful differentiating feature of SkyDrive is the remote fetching of any files on any computer that you have SkyDrive installed on and is currently turned on. From the web browser at SkyDrive.com you can easily browse and download any of your files as well as copy selectively to SkyDrive. The speed is impressive as well. It’s only slightly slower than using the actual Windows Explorer sometimes. Unfortunately this feature does not appear to be built into the mobile apps or native desktop apps at this time, but you can imagine how easy remote file access could be if this feature were to come as part of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.
With the SkyDrive desktop apps, the service works the same as DropBox or Google Drive in that you get a special folder that you specify the location for upon installation, and then whatever you copy/paste or drag/drop into that folder automatically gets synced to the SkyDrive cloud service easily and painlessly.
Collaboration actually works in real Office 2010 and Mac Office 2011 programs. You don’t have to use a web-based interface, and you know all of your formatting is going to be preserved because SkyDrive with its built-in Office Web Apps, integration with Windows Phone 7, and integration with Office 2010 on the desktop guarantees round tripping. Oddly, PowerPoint, Word, and Excel only support online collaboration if you open the documents from the SkyDrive web interface. Opening them from the SkyDrive folder on your desktop does not enable online collaboration.
SkyDrive has Office 2010 editing and round-tripping support for PowerPoint 2007+, Word 2007+, Excel 2007+, and OneNote 2010. With Google Drive, in order to use the Google Docs document editors you have to convert them to that format which can often lose certain types of data. Plus, Google doesn’t even have anything comparable to OneNote, which is what I consider the most useful Office software program to come around since Outlook brought email, contacts, calendars, and tasks together in one place.
OneNote and its SkyDrive integration is fantastic. All OneNote notebooks that you save to SkyDrive can easily be accessed from any web browser at SkyDrive.com, from any OneNote 2010 installation assigned to your Live ID, as well as from any of the mobile apps available for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. The only thing comparable to OneNote anywhere else is Evernote, which is much less feature rich and requires yet another monthly fee for features you get for free with OneNote (though there is an even simpler free version of Evernote). Google Drive and DropBox don’t have anything that competes with this.
There’s also some great integration with other free Microsoft apps. Video messages in Windows Live Messenger get saved to SkyDrive. You can easily download/upload photo albums with Windows Live Photo Gallery and your photo tags are synced as well. Windows Live Movie Maker has a quick upload button for SkyDrive video sharing, too.
Now what about the mobile apps? SkyDrive is heavily integrated with Windows Phone. SkyDrive photo albums and videos show up in the photos album, you can auto-sync your camera roll straight to SkyDrive (which will then auto-sync to your PCs), the Office Hub lets you browse and open most other types of files and of course you can collaborate on shared Office documents from here. OneNote notebooks are manageable and searchable from the Office Hub as well. Even posting pictures to twitter auto-uploads images to SkyDrive and creates a link with access permissions. If all of that is not enough, there’s also a SkyDrive app that you can download that will let you change sharing permissions on each SkyDrive folder, as well as better manage folder contents.
On iOS, you’ve got a very good looking SkyDrive app. It can display your pictures and Office documents, delete items, and change permissions on folders. There’s also a OneNote app that you can download separately on both iOS and Android that you can use to manage your OneNote notebooks directly. If you need more SkyDrive support on Android, there are a couple other apps from 3rd party developers that use SkyDrive’s APIs. “Browser for SkyDrive” is a free one that will let you look through your SkyDrive and download whichever files you want to your Android’s file system or vice versa. It also adds a SkyDrive option to the sharing menu, so you can easily upload pictures from the Android Gallery. Google Drive currently only has a mobile app available for Android, and desktop apps for Windows and Macs.
What about file upload limits? This is where SkyDrive’s appeal falls a bit. With SkyDrive you can only upload files that are less than 2 GB large (via the desktop interface). Google Drive supports file sizes up to 10 GB, and DropBox has no file size upload limit. That makes it unlikely for you to use SkyDrive to store 27 GB Blu-Ray movie rips, but considering Microsoft’s statistics that over 99% of their users take advantage of far less than 7 GB of storage, that’s probably not a big deal.
Another potential deal-breaker where SkyDrive fails is in comparison to platform support on DropBox. Official SkyDrive apps only support Windows 7, Mac OS X Lion, Windows Phone 7, and iOS. DropBox also supports Linux as well as older versions of Windows such as Windows XP, and older versions of Mac OS X which often people are stuck with since Apple doesn’t allow upgrading OS versions on older hardware.
SkyDrive’s integration with Android is a bit weak as well, though third party apps such as “Browser for Android” make it usable, but to be fair Android’s integration with Google Drive is weak as well. On Android Google Drive is just an app with Google Docs functionality. Photos that you take don’t auto-upload to Google Drive they go to Google Plus, and those photo libraries are not accessible from Google Drive and therefore don’t auto-sync to your PC.
So in conclusion, it seems SkyDrive beats Google Drive on pricing, free storage, free Office Web Apps, Office 2010 integration, OneNote 2010, Windows Phone integration, Windows Live Essentials integration, remote fetching of your PCs’ files, and cross-platform compatibility. Google Drive wins when it comes to file size upload limitations, Google Docs integration, and they have a decent Android app.