Microsoft’s SkyDrive Cloud Storage Delivers New Features

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Microsoft has added new photo and file sharing features to SkyDrive.com, as the latest in a series of improvements to SkyDrive that could serve as a selling point for Windows 8.1 and a competitive weapon against rival cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive.

“Today we’re releasing a set of new features that make SkyDrive.com an even better place to store your most precious digital memories — with support for more file types, new editing features, more ways to share with anyone, and added controls over what you’ve shared,” said Microsoft’s Omar Shahine, group program manager for SkyDrive,in a blog post on July 30.

The unveiling of these new features comes just about a a week after Microsoft’s announcement of new bandwidth-saving placeholder files and offline file access options in SkyDrive for Windows 8.1.

“Placeholder files look and feel like normal folders and files,” wrote Mona Akmal, Microsoft’s group manager of SkyDrive apps, in an earlier blog on July 22. “You can move, delete, copy, or rename placeholder files just like you would any folder or file. But we only download the full file when you access it. What we have in its place is a placeholder file containing a thumbnail image along with some basic properties and file content. This means that the placeholder file is significantly smaller in size that the file in SkyDrive, but when you need to use it, we’ll download the full file for you.”

In Windows 8.1, SkyDrive is becoming even more transparent than before, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, during an interview with NotebookReview. “SkyDrive is now built right into both the OS and the App Store,” he pointed out.

“There was deep integration with SkyDrive in Windows 8, and it’s becoming even deeper in Windows 8.1,” concurred Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, in another interview.

New Features for SkyDrive.com

In the batch of new features added to SkyDrive.com this week, Microsoft is providing some new editing features for both photo and text files, along with more file sharing options. Microsoft’s cloud storage service  now supports higher DPI displays such as Retina and ClearType Full HD.

“So now, SkyDrive.com supports these high DPI displays by measuring the DPI scale of your device. When your screen supports it, we show higher resolution photos and thumbnails. So you see more of your real photo instead of a thumbnail that gets up-scaled (note: not all browsers support high DPI yet),” according to Shahine.

Microsoft has also added support for animated GIFs, along with a new Rotate button for rotating photos from directly inside the service.

In new text editing options, SkyDrive is now letting users edit various types of text files directly in the browser, instead of resorting to the free Word Web app. (For expanded views of the screenshots at right, please click on the images.)

Also, by checking a new “Recipients can edit” box, users can now let recipients of emailed files edit the shared files without signing into SkyDrive.

For photo and file sharing, users can now share individual groups of files from anywhere in SkyDrive, rather than being limited to sharing only an individual file or a whole folder.

“You can share two photos from your camera roll, or a hundred. You can share a file in one folder along with another file from a different folder. And you can share different things with different people,” Shaine noted. For example, by clicking on a date heading and then on the Sharing command, you can share all pictures on the camera roll from that date.

Also new is a “Shared” view which shows you “all the stuff you’ve shared, and what’s been shared with you,” he said.

Other Improvements to SkyDrive for Windows 8.1

In other improvements announced last week for SkyDrive for Windows 8.1, the SkDrive app will allow you to mark folders or files you want for offline access, synchronizing edits to make sure that users are always working with the most up-to-date versions.

Also, the app will automatically mark files for offline access if you’ve previously opened or edited them on a specific device. In another new feature, the Windows file picker — which any Windows Store app can use for allowing users to open and save files — is built into the file picker, enabling any app to automatically save files directly to the cloud.

SkyDrive Could Be a ‘Better Alternative’, If Only on Windows

SkyDrive.com also works with apps for Windows 8, 7 and Vista, Windows Phone, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android.

“You can sync back and forth with iOS and Android devices,” Enderle observed.

As Enderle sees it, SkyDrive could be turning into a better alternative than competing cloud services, although only on Windows and Windows Phone.

“There’s a seamlessness. You just log in on either platform, and all of your stuff magically appears,” the analyst contended.

Remarked Miller: “With SkyDrive.com, docs are available wherever you are. Microsoft keeps adding more value with new features. I like what I see in the new photo editing capabilities and high DPI support, which will appeal to consumers using cloud storage services.”


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