A few months ago Microsoft published their vision for designing personal cloud storage. While SkyDrive can store all types of files, the category of personal cloud storage is focused on the content that people create or capture themselves.
Microsoft thinks what people want in personal cloud storage is a single drive that’s available across all of their devices, tailored to the experiences they’re using, providing instant, secure, and private access to their files, and sharing files and folders with people they choose. To bring this to billions of people, their approach is to seamlessly connect the files (and behaviors) that people have today on the PC with the app and device experiences that they will use in the future. Rather than using a patchwork of services, people can use one service to connect to their files – with no compromises. No copying files from one cloud to another just to share or collaborate. No converting files or having to switch to new apps. No searching across different storage areas to find files.
Delivering personal cloud storage for billions of people
Microsoft provides personal cloud storage for 17 million SkyDrive customers. These are active customers who use it every month to privately share photos and collaborate on Office documents. Given, the company’s goal is to be the world’s hard drive, this post will cover the ways that SkyDrive will evolve with Windows 8 from a website today into a true device cloud for Windows customers.
SkyDrive as a Metro style app for Windows 8
Microsoft wants to make sure that when you upgrade to Windows 8, your files would be instantly available and up-to-date as you move between PCs – without configuring add-ons or using a USB drive. To do this Microsoft came up with a no-compromise cloud experience where enthusiasts will be able to control files the way they want, while others who are less familiar with the file system can still take advantage of the cloud simply by accessing SkyDrive through the apps they use every day.
Enter the new SkyDrive app. With the SkyDrive app, an early version of which will be available at Consumer Preview, Microsoft, focused on two things:
Designing a fast, fluid, touch-first version of SkyDrive that makes it quick, easy, and even fun to browse and access your files, and
Making your SkyDrive available for use from any Metro style app via the file picker (open/save) and the new Share charm in Windows 8.
When using Windows 8, the SkyDrive Metro style app will be the best way to browse and manage your SkyDrive.
One of the most powerful features in Windows 8 is the ability to integrate SkyDrive functionality across other apps using charms and contracts. SkyDrive is available as a file picker, so from any app you’ll be able to open files from, and save files to your SkyDrive. If the app developer chooses, you’ll even be able to save files automatically back to SkyDrive. Alternatively, if you’re using a content creation app like a document editor, you’ll be able to save files back to SkyDrive in any folder that you choose.
Together, this will bring a file cloud to every Metro style app, allowing you to open files in your SkyDrive and save them right back to your SkyDrive just like you would on your local hard drive. This will work with any app that supports open and save for documents and photos, and will be the first time anything like this has been possible without any setup or configuration. All you need to do is register your email address on a PC that’s running Windows 8 and then, whenever you save files on SkyDrive, every Windows 8 device you use will provide seamless access to those files.
For app developers, this means that, so long as your app supports opening and saving documents and photos, it will automatically support SkyDrive without any additional work.
SkyDrive will also be available via the Share charm, which allows you to send documents or photos through the Mail app on Windows 8. With one tap, you will be able to choose to share files through SkyDrive instead of sending them as attachments, which means you won’t have multiple copies of your files, each with their own set of changes. And of course, you won’t be limited to the small number of attachments and total file size of most email services since the files are stored in your SkyDrive.
The best part about building this on the Windows 8 platform is that any Metro style app that enables its users to open and save files will get SkyDrive integration for free. Without adding a single line of code, users of the app will be able to access and store files on SkyDrive. So essentially, SkyDrive is one touch away from any Windows 8 app.
SkyDrive on the desktop
Microsoft is also bringing the power of SkyDrive to every Windows 8 desktop through Windows Explorer and to desktop apps like Office as well and for all those of you who wanted a desktop app, Microsoft will be releasing a desktop app. The benefits are obvious: easy drag-and-drop upload and download support for SkyDrive, anywhere access to your data, offline access, and the power of Windows Explorer to manage your files and folders. All of these things will be available with SkyDrive on the desktop.
You’ll only need to install it once per PC, as SkyDrive will always keep itself up-to-date. Once installed, your entire SkyDrive will start syncing into the folder you choose (the default location is in a SkyDrive folder under your user folder: %userprofile%SkyDrive) and it will always be up-to-date with your latest changes. As you update files on your PC, they’re uploaded immediately to the cloud–and as changes are made in the cloud or on another device, they’ll sync back down to the PC. There’s very little to manage or control and you won’t be bugged with pop-ups or dialog boxes.
As an example, here’s an image from Performance Monitor showing performance while a 500MB file is progressively uploading from the desktop to the cloud. You can see how little of the CPU is being used for SkyDrive during idle as well as for the file transfer halfway through (the blue is total CPU, the black is SkyDrive).
Of course, there are people who will use older versions of Windows for a while, so SkyDrive on the desktop will also run on Windows Vista and Windows 7. If you want to make sure your files come with you to Windows 8 and you’re still running Windows 7, you’ll just put them in your SkyDrive folder. This makes it easier to upgrade to Windows 8 or make sure you can access your files across all of your PCs.
SkyDrive for the desktop will also provide the ability to sync up to your available quota of storage (and the ability to unlock more), along with unmatched performance on your PC. Oh, and we will also have support for uploading large files (up to 2GB) through Explorer, another big request from SkyDrive.com users over the years.
SkyDrive on the desktop gives you a no-compromise cloud experience. Here are some preview images of SkyDrive in action on the desktop. The first one is the SkyDrive folder visible in Windows Explorer, and the second shows the entire Windows Phone camera roll synced automatically to the desktop:
Fetching files through SkyDrive.com
With SkyDrive in Windows 8, you won’t just have cloud files synced to your PC. You can also turn your entire PC into your own private cloud, and use its terabytes of local storage to easily access, browse, and stream your files from anywhere by simply fetching them from SkyDrive.com.
When designing the new SkyDrive, Microsoft knew not everyone would want to put 100% of their files in the cloud just yet. People are selective, and while some will move all of their files into SkyDrive, others will want to start slowly and use SkyDrive just for roaming some important documents and pictures from their Windows Phone camera roll. Knowing that most people would still have files on a remote PC that weren’t available through SkyDrive, we built a new feature that allows you to “reach across” the Internet to access any file, stream videos, or view photo albums from a remote PC that is running SkyDrive on the desktop. For any remote folder or file, you can also choose to “copy to SkyDrive,” so that you’ll always have it across your devices.
Internally we call this the “Forgot something?” feature. If you forget to put something on SkyDrive, you’ll still be able to access it on your remote PC through SkyDrive.com. We’ve done special work to enable remote streaming of video, and we’ll treat photo albums on your remote PC exactly as we do photo albums in SkyDrive, with the same beautiful full-screen viewer. We realize this is more of an enthusiast feature, as most people won’t have an always-on PC at home, but for those who do, fetching files works like magic.
Here’s how your remote PC will look in SkyDrive.com, and what it will be like to browse your Pictures folder remotely:
Of course, being able to remotely access a PC from a web browser has the potential to be abused. If someone has access to your account, without further protection, they’d be able to browse the entire contents of any SkyDrive-connected PC that happens to be online at that time. Naturally that isn’t something we’re comfortable with, so Microsoft has added another layer of protection for your remote PCs.
In order to access a remote PC, you will have to provide a second factor of authentication. This requires that you type a code that we send to your mobile phone or alternate email address in addition to having access to your account (if you’re already on a trusted PC, you won’t have to do this every time). This means that anyone wanting access to your remote PC would have to have access not only to your account, but also to either an alternate email or your phone (which they would need to physically possess). Here’s a preview of this:
Two-factor authentication is required before you can connect remotely
We’ll verify your identity using a code that we send to your phone in a text message
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