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Why Can't SkyDrive's Apps Work Like Dropbox?

With last month's launch of Windows 8.1, the new Surface Pro 2 and the Windows RT-based Surface 2, Microsoft has made its SkyDrive service a key component of the company's "devices and services" strategy. The concept is great but the execution falls short because SkyDrive isn't as easy to use on any device as Dropbox.

That's a major problem and one I believe Microsoft must fix sooner than later. Indeed time is of the essence. Dropbox is reportedly on the verge of securing a whopping $257 million in financing on top of the $250 million it already has raised, Bloomberg Businessweek reported Monday. Dropbox officials believe the company's market cap is worth $8 billion, according to the report. The company has 200 million users, though a vast majority of them use the free service. Nevertheless Dropbox's revenues have grown from $12 million in 2010 to $116 million last year and it's estimated it'll exceed $200 million, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Microsoft has offered its SkyDrive service for many years and those who were fortunate enough to sign up before April of last year secured 25 GB of capacity for free before the company slashed the amount of complimentary capacity down to 7 GB. Even now, the 7 GB limit is more than three times more generous than the 2 GB limit of Dropbox, though you can receive incremental promotional upgrades. I've managed to up my free Dropbox capacity to 5 MB.

All things being equal I'd rather use SkyDrive as my default personal cloud storage provider. Its integration with Windows 8.1, Office 2013 and Office 365 (which Microsoft says is on a 1.5 million user run rate) make it an ideal way of synchronizing documents across multiple devices and PCs. It also makes the latest versions of Windows and Office quite compelling. Enterprise users with SharePoint Online can use the even more manageable SkyDrive Pro, but that's a separate story.

Unfortunately all things aren't equal. Though close, SkyDrive is no Dropbox -- at least not in its current form. Perhaps the biggest downside to SkyDrive is its interface on the current crop of devices and on Windows 8.1. The Dropbox app on Apple's iOS and Windows 8.x is much easier to use as it displays files and folders the way users are accustomed to using the Windows Explorer model. SkyDrive doesn't. It renders files as icons. While you can search for content, good luck trying to sort files. In fact, the best way to organize files is by using the traditional Windows desktop.

Of course, one way around that is to use Windows Explorer in Windows 8.1, which does provide a good view of all your files. But that defeats the purpose of using the modern app and it isn't even an option with non-Windows devices.

At the same time, there are some key benefits to SkyDrive versus Dropbox, as Microsoft points out, including remote access and the ability to edit and add notes. And Microsoft makes it easier to do certain tasks like attaching a file to a message in Mail from SkyDrive, which isn't easily done with Dropbox.

Still, I find it easier to find files in Dropbox than SkyDrive and at the end of the day, that's what matters. Microsoft needs to address this in its apps if it wants to appeal to those happy with Dropbox. Moreover, there's no shortage of alternative personal cloud services from the likes of Apple and Google as well as those already reaching out to enterprises such as Box, which also has raised a boatload of funding and has a sizeable installed base.

Also rest assured Dropbox isn't sitting still. The company last week announced Dropbox for Business, which addresses a key objection to the free service: the lack of IT control and questions about security. Dropbox could be an attractive acquisition target for Microsoft, Google, Apple and even Amazon. The latter could be especially attractive as Dropbox currently hosts its infrastructure on Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service S3.

But Microsoft doesn't need to shell out the billions it would take to acquire Dropbox.All it needs to do is make SkyDrive's user interface more flexible in its modern apps across all platforms.

What's your preferred personal cloud storage service?


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/20/2013 at 12:23 PM


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