All posts tagged ‘cloud’

File Under: Software & Tools

Microsoft Takes on Dropbox With Major SkyDrive Update

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.

After authorizing via SMS, you can use any computer to browse the disks of any computer running the SkyDrive client app. Image: Microsoft

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.

File Under: APIs

Dropbox API Lets You Add Cloud Storage to Your Apps

dropboxDropbox, the free, web-based file backup service, has rolled out a new API that gives developers a way to access, edit and save any file in a user’s Dropbox account.

The Dropbox API works a bit like an Amazon S3 storage bucket except that you, not the application in question, have control over your uploaded files.

The Dropbox API uses familiar tools like JSON, OAuth and OpenID, so web developers can essentially offload their user’s storage needs to Dropbox. For users, the usual risks of tying your web app to a cloud storage mechanism are mitigated by the fact that Dropbox keeps a local copy on your hard drive.

While the potential for integration with web apps is very cool — imagine if all your Flickr uploads automatically synced to the Dropbox folder on your hard drive for an instant backup — the first place you’ll likely see the Dropbox API in action is on mobile devices.

Storage limitations and, in the case of the iPhone/iPad, Apple’s imposed restrictions, mean that it’s difficult to build mobile apps that can access local files, let alone read, write and sync.

That’s the basic problem the Dropbox API seeks to overcome — using the Dropbox API means there’s no need for local files on your mobile device and everything is automatically synced back to your PC. The only catch is that you need an internet connection for the syncing to work.

Dropbox has already worked with a number of developers to integrate the new API prior to the launch. For example, Air Sharing, GoodReader and QuickOffice can now tap into your Dropbox account to edit and sync your Dropbox files. The new API ships with client libraries in Objective-C (pretty much required for the iPhone/iPad), Python, Ruby and Java. To create an application you’ll need to register with Dropbox and then, once you have access, you can grab the client library of your choice and check out the online documentation.

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File Under: Multimedia, Software, Web Apps

Apple Considers Bringing iTunes Into the Cloud

Apple is getting ready to bring its iTunes Store to a web browser near you.

So says The Wall Street Journal. Citing the ever-vague, “people familiar with the matter,” the WSJ claims a browser-based iTunes Store — built from Lala.com, recently acquired by Apple — could arrive early next year.

Moving to an online, browser-based music experience would be a fundamental change for Apple, which currently requires that users install its iTunes software before purchasing music.

The key difference between the current iTunes Store model and Lala.com is that the later allows you to buy music that lives in a cloud-based library. You can then listen to your collection through a web browser, which means you can access your music from any computer with a network connection.

That’s good news for those of you who, like us, find the iTunes music player to be a bloated, unwieldy piece of software. If the iTunes Store were freed from iTunes, in theory, it would make it much easier to purchase music and then manage your library with the software of your choice. Like with Songbird, for example.

Of course, iPod and iPhone compatibility would still be an issue. While there are plenty of third-party music players that can sync music to your iPod, but such tools exist under the constant threat that Apple will change something and break the syncing capabilities.

There’s another potential upside to moving the iTunes store into the cloud — the iTunes application might return to being a media player and Apple can focus on improving it, rather than simply using it as a storefront.

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