Clever Cloud Offering Or Just Another Microsoft Sync Service That Sucks?
Microsoft are constantly trying, often in vain, to reinvent themselves to compete with the now big boys of Google & Apple.
When it comes to online file sync and storage though, there are quite a few options – quite a few better options, than SkyDrive.
In February this year, Microsoft announced the end of their Windows Live Mesh service in favor of a new ‘desktop integrated’ sync and storage offering, SkyDrive, but how does it compare to both it’s predecessor, Windows Live Mesh.
Let’s take a look at the features, download and install, ease of use and performance.
The SkyDrive Story
Microsoft SkyDrive is not a new product.
It’s actually been around for about 4 or 5 years under various different names but it’s essentially just an online storage facility hosted by Microsoft.
What’s changed recently is the way in which you can sync or transmit your files to your SkyDrive.
Previously you had to download Windows Live Mesh and choose your SkyDrive as the device you wish to sync to.
Now you need to download the Microsoft SkyDrive client which will soon replace the old Mesh client. In the case of Windows 8, the SkyDrive client will be integrated right into the Metro interface.
Currently (July ’12), you can install both Windows Live Mesh and SkyDrive app side by side in the Windows 8 preview.
An ideal chance to compare the features before MS do away with Live Mesh altogether.
Essentially what it boils down to is that Windows Live Mesh app stores it’s files in SkyDrive, so therefore anything SkyDrive now has, Mesh also has by default.
The kicker here is that the new SkyDrive ‘client’ or ‘app’ if you want to even call it that, has lost a whole lot of nice features.
The major lost feature for me is the lack of direct PC-to-PC sync. This allowed you to sync files directly between PCs without going via the cloud.
The second major feature to lose is syncing multiple folders (in the true sense). Yes, SkyDrive can sync all the folders you can throw at it but they must reside inside the SkyDrive folder on your desktop.
With Mesh, you could simply browse to any folder and choose to sync it.
The enhancements brought to the actual SkyDrive.com website have been a bit more impressive but we’re reviewing the app here!
In an effort to limit this review to ‘online sync and storage’ services, I’m not going to get into all of the additional things you can do with your files once they’re in the cloud and limit this to what you can do on the actual PC.
Downloading & Installing The SkyDrive App
First off – Microsoft have once again alienated their massive Windows XP user base by excluding the new SkyDrive app.
This is probably in an effort to force more users across to the later versions of Windows.
It’ll happen naturally and eventually but why force it?
SkyDrive is built right into Metro so no download required.
Simply click SkyDrive on your Metro screen and you’ll be asked to login.
However, bizarrely enough, you can also (unnecessarily I might add) go ahead and download the app like you would for 7 or Vista.
Download, install and the SkyDrive will appear in the old fashioned system tray as well.
Nothing like an extra system tray icon eh?
Windows 7 and Vista (SP2)
On Windows 7 or Vista, download the app and with a single click it installs and begins a friendly getting started screen.
After finishing the extremely short setup wizard you’ll have a SkyDrive folder inside your home folder.
Mine defaulted to C:\Users\Rosco\SkyDrive (same as on Windows 8) but I could have chosen and alternative location during the short setup wizard (the only customizable feature at this point).
Look familiar to DropBox? That’s because it is.
This placement of a single sync able folder into the user’s home folder is exactly DropBox’s method.
You’ll be treated to a small icon in the system tray with a few relevant options – several of which are simply links to the SkyDrive website.
The settings screen is sparse.
A nice feature some other cloud services don’t (or possibly can’t!) offer you is the ability to fetch any file on your PC via the website.
Mac OS X (Lion)
‘SkyDrive for Mac’ is actually only available for OS X 10.7 (Lion) and higher.
It has normal simple ‘Mac’ process of installing an app. Download, extract the file, drag to Applications. Done.
On launching SkyDrive for the the first time you will be get a similar short welcome wizard and on completion will have an icon in your menu bar.
Similar to Windows, by default, your SkyDrive folder get’s placed in your home folder.
You also get a Favorite added without any request – how very ‘Microsoft’ – eh I mean ‘thoughtful’.
The settings screen is totally unpolished, doesn’t integrate into the standard Mac Preferences panel and even has the option to send data to Microsoft greyed out.
This definitely will not mean ‘I want what I can’t have’.
I won’t get bogged down in the mobile app features – that deserves a dedicated review itself so I’ll just provide handy links to what’s available right now.
- iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch): Available for users of iOS 4.x or higher, you can get the app for free through the App Store. Standard installation applies.
- Windows Phone: Available for Windows Phone users running version 7.5 or higher, you can download the app here. Standard installation applies.
- Android: Android users can download and install ‘Browser for SkyDrive’ app directly from the Android Store.
Ease of Use
I can’t really dis SkyDrive for being hard to use; it’s not.
Similar to DropBox, you drag (or add) a file or folder into the SkyDrive and it just syncs it to the cloud automatically.
The great majority of features, bells and whistles are on the actual website skydrive.com or by using SkyDrive add ons, Office integration and so on.
Sync Performance Tests
It’s really quite hard for a one to test performance without access to logs, complex performance testing tools, etc so I’m going to use comparison techniques to give you an idea of how well SkyDrive performs.
I will measure the time it takes:
- Test 1: SkyDrive to sync a 10MB file from Windows 8 to the cloud and then sync the same file back down to SkyDrive on my Mac
- Test 2: SkyDrive to sync a second 10MB file from Mac to the cloud and then sync the same file back down to SkyDrive on my Windows 8
- Test 3: Same as test 1 but using DropBox for comparison.
- Test 4: Same as test 2 but using DropBox for comparison.
- Test 5: Same as test 1 but using traditional FTP manually for comparison.
- Test 6: Same as test 2 but using traditional FTP manually for comparison.
- Test 7: File Delete Test #1 – how long does it take Windows to realize I deleted a file via the SkyDrive website.
- Test 8: File Delete Test #2 – how long does it take the SkyDrive website to realize I deleted a file via the Windows app.
- Test 9: File Delete Test #3 – Same as test 7 but using DropBox.
- Test 10: File Delete Test #4 – Same as test 8 but using DropBox.
I’m doing this on an 9MB down/750Kbps up ADSL 2+ connection.
In summary, SkyDrive was definitely slower to react and to upload/download the files.
DropBox perhaps has been around longer in this area and knows how to tweak their polling and throughput. Note that LAN sync was OFF during these tests.
Overall, SkyDrive has potential but is a bit disappointing at this stage regarding features.
The lack of control over settings, PC-to-PC/Mac local LAN sync is a big minus for me but outside the sync & store area it has big pros especially related to Office integration and Office Live – something that’s a manual effort for DropBox users right now.
Updated July 1 2012