Utility Spotlight: Synchronize Your Files with SkyDrive

The preview version of the new SkyDrive for Windows has several enhancements over its Web-based counterpart.

Lance Whitney

If you need to access and manage documents in your online storage directly from your PC, you may want to check out Microsoft SkyDrive for Windows. Currently available as a preview edition, SkyDrive for Windows lets you synchronize documents in the cloud—and to your Windows and Mac OS X computers.

Any changes you make to a file are updated to the same file online and across your various PCs. So the new SkyDrive essentially functions like a combination of the old SkyDrive and the Microsoft Live Mesh application.

To get started, download the SkyDrive preview from its Web page on Windows Live. Install the SkyDriveSetup.exe file. The installation process will prompt you to sign in with your SkyDrive username and password. By default, the software will create a new subfolder named SkyDrive under your user folder. You can change the location if you wish (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 You can store the SkyDrive app anywhere you wish.

You then have the option of making files on your current PC available on other PCs you add to your SkyDrive network. After you’ve finished the installation process, your local SkyDrive folder will be automatically updated with any subfolders and files currently stored on your online SkyDrive space.

Looking at your local SkyDrive folder in Windows Explorer, you can see the files as they’re synchronized. A green circle with a checkbox appears next to any file or folder that has been fully updated (see Figure 2). Two blue arrows display next to any folder still in the process of being updated.

Figure 2 You can immediately see which files and folders are updated.

Repeat the same installation and setup process for any other PCs you wish to add to your network. There’s also a version of SkyDrive for Mac OS X available for any Mac computers you want to include. There are even mobile versions available for Windows Phone, the iPhone and the iPad

Instant Update

After you’ve installed SkyDrive on whichever computers you wish to include, any files you add, modify or delete either on a computer or your SkyDrive Web page will be updated across all your PCs. You can create new folders and files on your PC to include in the synchronization. The major limitation here is that any subfolders and files must be stored in or moved to your local SkyDrive folder. This is unlike Live Mesh, which can synchronize any individual folder or file stored anywhere on your hard drive.

Logging onto your SkyDrive space online displays all synchronized folders and files that are part of your SkyDrive network (see Figure 3). You can create new folders and manage your existing folders by moving, renaming or deleting them. You can add new files to your online space from your PC by uploading them through a standard dialog box. You can also drag and drop them onto your SkyDrive Web page.

Figure 3 When you log onto SkyDrive, you’ll see all your files and folders.

You can view certain file types from your SkyDrive page, and display images individually or in a slide show. You can even create or edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents via Microsoft Office Web Apps. Any Microsoft Office files you create or modify online are then propagated across the PCs in your SkyDrive network.

SkyDrive also has some basic access control. You can share specific folders and files with other people by e-mailing them a link. You can then decide whether to let your recipients edit the files or only view them.

Finally, your SkyDrive page displays a list of all PCs in your network. Clicking on a PC that’s powered on lets you view and access files on its hard drive and in its libraries and specific locations, such as documents, music and pictures (see Figure 4). You can then download any file to your current PC or copy it to one of your SkyDrive online folders.

Figure 4 You can download files from other PCs within your network.

By default, new SkyDrive users get 7GB of storage space. If your needs grow beyond 25GB, you can pay for additional space. SkyDrive storage costs $10 a year for an additional 20GB, $25 a year for an additional 50GB, and $50 a year for an additional 100GB. SkyDrive for Windows is compatible with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

SkyDrive lets you easily share and synchronize files across a group of computers and your online storage space. If you’re working in the cloud, you might as well be working in SkyDrive.

Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.