By Peter Bright, Ars Technica
A couple of years ago we lamented the state of Microsoft’s cloud storage services. On the one hand, there was SkyDrive, with gobs of storage. On the other hand, there was Mesh, with file synchronization and remote access. Two separate products, when really there should have been one.
And now there is. Microsoft has rolled out a set of new SkyDrive apps and new online capabilities to make SkyDrive the one-stop shop for file syncing and remote file access. On the software side, there are new clients for Windows and Mac OS X to sync files with the cloud, and updated versions of the Windows Phone and iOS clients (there’s no first-party Android app, but Microsoft recommends a couple of third-party programs).
On the cloud side, there’s are some major changes to availability. Under the old system, users had 25 GB of non-synced SkyDrive cloud storage, and 5 GB of synced Mesh storage. Now, there’s just a single 7 GB of synced storage, with paid options to buy more space, starting at $10 for 20 GB per year, up to $50 for 100 GB per year. Though this increases the amount of synced storage, it nonetheless represents a reduction in total storage availability. However, any users that signed up for SkyDrive before April 22, and who have uploaded at least one file to the service, are eligible for a free upgrade to 25 GB. Existing users with at least 4 GB uploaded will pick up the 25 GB update automatically.
The software client incorporates most of Mesh’s features. It performs file synchronization, and it also optionally enables remote file system access, allowing even non-SkyDrive files to be accessed via the SkyDrive site. With Mesh, we were critical of the way it lacked the simplicity of Dropbox, with its prominently displayed “magic” synchronized folder. The new SkyDrive all but clones Dropbox’s way of working, with a new special “SkyDrive” folder created in your user directory, and all files placed in that folder automatically synced.
A handful of Mesh features haven’t made their way to the new client. Mesh offered limiting synchronization of settings such as Internet Explorer bookmarks. The new SkyDrive does not. Setting synchronization via SkyDrive will, however, be an important feature of Windows 8, so it’s likely that this feature will return in some capacity. Mesh (like Dropbox) also offered syncing over LAN when it detected that machines could share files without going over the Internet. This capability has been dropped in SkyDrive.
Mesh also offered remote desktop access similar to that found in Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol. This was a great feature, as it worked even on Windows SKUs that had no native remote desktop facility. It also worked without requiring any ports to be forwarded on routers, so it had zero maintenance overhead. The removal of this feature is a pity; even Windows 8 retains Remote Desktop’s positioning as a “premium” feature, with neither the standard Windows 8 SKU nor the ARM Windows RT SKU able to serve as Remote Desktop hosts. Windows users may have to start looking elsewhere to fill this gap.
These latest changes to SkyDrive come hot on the hells of last week’s updates, in which Microsoft added URL shortening, ODF support, and 300 MB in-browser uploads to SkyDrive.
The company is aggressively positioning SkyDrive as a superior alternative to Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox, and Google’s apps storage. With the new client, SkyDrive has become a lot more useful to a lot more people, and Windows 8′s SkyDrive integration is set to take this to another level.
This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.