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Microsoft Beefs Up Windows Live SkyDrive Service

Microsoft upgraded its free consumer-oriented Windows Live SkyDrive personal cloud storage and file-sharing service on Monday.

The upgrade includes improvements to the file directory's user interface, as well as a new photo album screen. Microsoft claims speed improvements for photo browsing based on leveraging technologies such as hardware-accelerated graphics, HTML 5 and CSS 3 in the update. Photos display in landscape and portrait formats and appear proportional to their original aspect ratios in the photo album.

The file directory user interface was improved by removing a summary screen and advertisements. Now, there is a single place to view file information and share files in SkyDrive, making the interface more Windows like.

SkyDrive can be pinned to the Windows 7 taskbar by Internet Explorer 9 users, making access to it more like accessing an application. However, those using Windows Vista and IE 9 are out of luck because that pinning feature in IE 9 doesn't work with Vista.

SkyDrive provides users with up to 25 GB of free cloud-based storage for files. The aim of the upgrade was to make the SkyDrive service easier to use for Microsoft's "1 billion Windows customers," according to Microsoft's announcement. SkyDrive allows users to play back H.264-based videos that are up to 100 MB in size. Photos can be uploaded that are up to 50 MB in size.

Many observers have noted that SkyDrive and its associated free Office Web Apps (browser-based versions of Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word) have limitations in comparison with using the premises-based Office suite and saving files to a PC's hard drive. Microsoft took an "iterative approach" with its SkyDrive upgrades, and noted that there's much room for improvement.

"There are parts of the [SkyDrive] experience like creating a new album, uploading, renaming files, sharing, and editing permissions that are also scheduled to get a makeover soon," stated Omar Shahine, group program manager for SkyDrive.com, in Microsoft's announcement.

File sharing is accomplished in SkyDrive by either sending a link to another person via e-mail or by setting permissions on a file. Files can be set for public access or just for certain users to access. The SkyDrive service enables simultaneous editing (two people working on the same document at the same time) only with the Excel Office Web App.

Users of Windows Vista Service Pack 2 or Windows 7 also have access to the free Windows Live Essentials 2011, a collection of seven applications that sync up to SkyDrive using the Windows Live Mesh service. Windows Live Mesh connects users to 5 GB of free storage when used with SkyDrive. Microsoft used to have another sync service called Windows Live Sync but that service was dropped. According to a Twitter post noted by veteran Microsoft observer Mary-Jo Foley, the updated SkyDrive has a new link that lets users view folders on SkyDrive that have been synched up via Windows Live Mesh.

Microsoft also envisions promoting the SkyDrive service for use with other devices, such as Windows Phone 7-based smartphones. The next Windows Phone 7 "Mango" operating system upgrade, expected this fall, will add SkyDrive access for those smartphones. SkyDrive access will allow Windows Phone 7 users to share photos from their phones via e-mail, text or the Messenger/Facebook service, a Microsoft blog explains. 

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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