Archive for the ‘SkyDrive’ Category
Two days ago an app was released by Microsoft that allows you to sync files from your computer to your online storage vault at http://www.skydrive.com, read Microsoft’s announcement at Making personal cloud storage for Windows available anywhere, with the new SkyDrive. To describe this release as overdue is an understatement, I personally have been after a decent sync client for SkyDrive since I first started using the service back in 2007, indeed in my first blog post on the subject in August 2007 I said:
The most requested feature so far is the ability to sync this cloud storage service with conventional storage on our own hardware and I would put that top of my list too. … This should enable seamless dragging and dropping between local folders and live folders using the tools we are all familiar with (e.g. Windows Explorer).
Here we are, nearly five years later, and the ability to sync with the cloud has finally arrived. So how does it measure up? I’ve been using it for a couple of days so herein I’ll share my experiences so far:
- As a user that already had over 4GB worth of data stored on SkyDrive I automatically received the 25GB free storage limit. That’s 25GB of free syncable storage space. Yum.
- I have been using NAS (in the form of Windows Home Server) to backup all of my music and photos for a couple of years now but I’ve never been completely happy with it because
- hard drives can still go pop and redundancy doesn’t make them failsafe
- it still takes maintenance from time-to-time
- there is no ability to sync that storage, certainly not seamlessly built-in anyway
- it is only available to me at home (Home Server does provide access via a web portal but I’ve never found it to be particularly usable)
- it is expensive (both for the hardware and the cost of running the server)
This new SkyDrive app coupled with syncable cloud storage either alleviates or reduces all of those problems so I purchased 100GB of extra storage on SkyDrive for £32 per year (less than the cost of running my Home Server for the same length of time). Here was the first negative though – when I went to purchase the extra storage I was only offered payment in US dollars and hence when asked to fill in my credit card details I was required to enter a US address which I do not have (I live in the UK). This required a call to SkyDrive support where I was informed by the very helpful Jennifer Crispo that SkyDrive had incorrectly identified me as being in the US and that I could purchase storage from the UK by visiting https://skydrive.live.com/managestorage?accountid=0&ctpmkt=en-GB. This worked fine thankfully (thanks Jennifer).
- I loaded my 50+GB worth of media from my Home Server into my local SkyDrive folder and waited to see how long it would take to sync to the cloud. That was approximately 30 hours ago and so far it has loaded up ~15GB. I’ll leave you to decide whether you consider that fast or slow (its worth remembering that the SkyDrive app works as a background, low priority, process), I tell you this so that you have some sort of yardstick as to how long it might take you to sync all of your stuff to SkyDrive should you choose to do so.
- When I heard about the “Fetch” feature (i.e. the ability to access a file from a PC that is running the SkyDrive app elsewhere) I wasn’t too enamoured as I didn’t think I would be using it too much. Turns out I was wrong, it proved invaluable on the first day of use in order to access a file on my home PC that had not yet synced up to SkyDrive.com. Moreover, I was blown away at how quick it was – clicking through the folders from my Home PC was as quick as doing the same on my local hard drive – seriously. Colour me impressed with the new Fetch feature.
There are still many features that I would like to see added to SkyDrive (many of which I alluded to in my post Thoughts on latest SkyDrive news from two months ago):
- There is no access from my XBox and if XBox is intended to be a media hub that has to change [UPDATE: Uncanny that just 90minutes or so after I wrote this that an article has appeared on The Verge revealing plans for a new music service coming to XBox. No word on whether it integrates with SkyDrive or not tho.]
- Currently I cannot play any of my uploaded music online – there needs to be an online music player/experience integrated into SkyDrive.com
- I cannot choose to sync a subset of my SkyDrive to a particular device. This is a big problem as I do have at least two devices (my phone and a tablet PC) that have less storage available than the 125Gb that I now have available on SkyDrive.
- I would like to share all of my media with my wife so that she can access it all on her laptop without logging on as me. Unfortunately that is not possible because the SkyDrive app only syncs folders that belong to you, not those that have been shared with you.
- I don’t understand why storage tops out at 125GB. Why can one not simply pay for however much one wants on a price-per-GB basis?
- It would be really nice of Microsoft to bundle extra storage along with every license of Windows. Say, “buy a copy of Windows and get an extra 2GB of free storage on SkyDrive for life”; I’m not an expert on the economics here but with the cost of storage plummeting all the time I can’t imagine that such an offer would be much of an encumbrance for Microsoft to provide. It would be an incentive to upgrade, an incentive to choose Windows over a rival OS and moreover would introduce SkyDrive to new customers too.
That’s a quick recounting of my experiences so far with the SkyDrive app, I hope this is useful to some of you. If I discover anything significant in the future I shall come back here and update.
I’ve been pondering some improvements that I’d like to see to Hotmail. Namely:
- I’d like the ability to attach files that exist in my skydrive. Taking the idea further, instead of attaching it to the email, let me have the option to instead insert a link to the file on skydrive instead.
- Skydrive has a great drag-and-drop feature that allows people to drag files into the browser window and upload them. I’d love to see the same feature available that would enable us to attach files within hotmail.
I’ve suggested these at http://feedback.live.com. Here’s hoping something turns up.
I just spotted a new button (well, what I THINK is a new button) on the Windows Live Toolbar following my installation of the updated version via Windows Live Suite earlier this week.
Cool, I can now access my folders right from the toolbar! What would be even better would be if it showed me everything that is in those folders (just like Scott’s Windows Live Writer Skydrive plugin does) so I can jump straight to them.
Good question. This might take a bit of thinking about and frankly I’m not the guy that’s going to do it. Is "You should be able to do everything with the API that you can at http://skydrive.live.com" a good enough answer for you Angus?
When you consider what an API should offer you really have to think about it from the point of view of the user. There are two types of user that a SkyDrive API is going to have to support in the future, home users and business users. I fully expect that one day there will be a SkyDrive offering coupled with Office Live. People (both internal and external to Microsoft) are going to want to leverage SkyDrive for their own purposes and that is why an API is vital. In the future I’m going to want to be able to:
- Store documents created in Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint etc… direct to my SkyDrive. This becomes even more important if Microsoft come out with a purely online version of Office (which I think they will) because with that, where else are you going to store your documents to?
- Store documents created in other online software (such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets) in my SkyDrive
- Store documents created on my Mac straight to my SkyDrive
- Embed SkyDrive viewers into social networking sites and other websites
- Access SkyDrive from rich clients on a mobile phone
- Synchronise traditional hard drive storage with SkyDrive. This includes the hard drive on my smartphone by the way.
- Play media stored on my SkyDrive in the media players I have on my PC
- Sync my Zune directly with media store in SkyDrive
I would hope that all of the above would be made possible through the use of an API
Incidentally, yesterday Scott let me have a play with his SkyDriveViewer that Angus talks about (I managed to find a couple of bugs :) ). Quite impressive stuff in lieu of an API but of course screen-scraping can only go so far. An API needs to be introduced for this ASAP.
UPDATE, 30th June 2008: You should read this blog entry in conjunction with my update: SkyDrive API revisited!
A few days ago I wrote about Skydrive and was critical of the fact that existing links no longer worked post-upgrade.
I registered this bug at connect.microsoft.com where I said:
The new interface looks great but I’m pretty angry that old links no longer work. If you want it proved to you then hit the links on this page:
I accept that this is a beta service but surely you have to maintain links.
Is it going to change again?
I received this reply:
Unfortunately, this is by design because of our name change.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Now, I can just about accept that given Skydrive is still a beta service (that word "beta" seems to be a handy "Get out of jail free" card) but I don’t accept the poor communication that surrounds it. Why were we not warned at the outset that links we create might not work in the future? Why were we not told about the problem here after the upgrade? Why has the question that I posed been ignored?
I have been generous with my praise of Windows Live initiatives over the past few months but when the teams need calling to task over their actions then I will criticise as well. Here is such a case.
I hope this improves in the future but given the apathetic approach that the Windows Live teams take towards their customers (more of that in another post) I fear it won’t.
I’ve spoken about Live Folders quite alot on here lately and some big news from that product team today is that they have dropped their working name and adopted "Windows Live Skydrive" as their name. Read about it directly from the SkyDrive team here and read more comment here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here (is that enough?).
The new interface is better and includes the new Live Wave 2 UI, the uploading tool is very very cool (drag and drop files that you want to upload directly into the browser), I like the provided embed links, and there is a pretty heavy nod to personalisation too. All is not great though, any existing links no longer work which I happen to think is pretty shocking even for a beta service. Just to verify that they don’t work, go and check out these three previous blog entries of mine where I have had to update the links:
- SSIS Nugget: Bitwise Checkpointing
- Announcing SQL Server Monitor Gadget for Windows Vista Sidebar
- Consuming web services in SSIS 2008
Come on guys. Think about these things huh?
For those of you that don’t read the same RSS feeds as me, Live Folders is now available as a limited beta to the first 5000 people to apply. This means that 5000 people can upload files but anyone in the world can download the public-facing ones. Luckily for me I managed to get in as one of the 5000 and my first use of it has been to make available the video from my blog entry "Consuming Web Services in SSIS 2008" from a couple of weeks ago. Here’s a screenshot of that publicly available file:
I previously made some predictions about how the Live Folders service would evolve and now that I have used the service I have some suggestions about how they could improve it:
- The most requested feature so far is the ability to sync this cloud storage service with conventional storage on our own hardware and I would put that top of my list too. Given Microsoft’s push for software+services I can safely say this will definately happen and I’m virtually certain that a rebadged and updated version of FolderShare will be part of it. This should enable seamless dragging and dropping between local folders and live folders using the tools we are all familiar with (e.g. Windows Explorer).
- The interface is still a little clunky (for want of a better word). I am surprised that they haven’t leveraged AJAX to give us a right-click menu identical to that in Windows and I would expect that functionality to come soon.
- More on copying the Windows interface. Vista allows us to view the contents of folders as tiles, in a list, details, thumbnails, small icons, medium icons, large icons or extra large icons. I’d like the same in Live Folders.
- I’m surprised that when we are uploading a file we’re not able to do anything else (such as uploading another file). Compare this to YouTube and SoapBox which both allow you to do other activity while a file is uploading.
- There is no search mechanism for public folders. I’d like there to be one.
- Give us a web gadget that enables us to view the contents of our Live Folders from our Live Space, Live.com homepage or iGoogle homepage. Perhaps even give us a Pageflakes widget.
- Allow for tagging of files to enable easier searching of public folders for alike files.
- Live Messenger/Live Contacts allows us to define groups into which we can group our contacts. I want the ability to specify that one of these groups could have access to a shared folder rather than having to list every person individually. If you think about it, this is exactly how groups and users work in Active Directory.
- People that work for the same company should have access to a set of live folders via the Office Live service.
- I want to see statistics on my folders/files that are shared or public. Statistics such as how many people have looked at the file/folder and how many people have downloaded the file.In the case of shared folders I would like to know who those people are.
- As you can see from the screenshot above Microsoft will be displaying advertisments on Live Folders. As I see it, it is the user that is driving people to the page therefore there should be an option for the user to receive revenue via the Microsoft Affiliates Network.
- Users may want to move files to different locations in their Live Folders but this will be a problem if links already exist in emails or out on the internet that point to the old location. Hence, I’d like to have a mechanism for redirection.
- Navigate folders using a treeview
Live Folders beta was announced in concert with Live Photo Gallery beta and is talked about in this announcement from Chris Jones. I heard Chris speak during the MVP Summit in March 2007 about the future of Windows Live and he roused my interest to such a point that I have been talking voraciously on this blog about Windows Live ever since. Perennial Microsoft observer Joe Wilcox also read the announcement and commented on the Live Folders beta and Live Photo Gallery beta in his blog entry Live Lives, But How Well?. In that post he makes an interesting point about how Microsoft should leverage other web APIs (he uses Flickr as an example) in addition to rolling their own to try and compete. Its an interesting perspective and one that I am undecided on but it leads me to talk about the main reason why I am so enthusisatic about Windows Live services.
Specifically, it is the Windows Live ID in conjunction with Microsoft’s sheer scale and breadth of services. I hate having to go to different online services that require me to login, and thus remember different username/password combinations, in order to get all the services that I am interested in. I just want to use a single login. Thus, the fact that the Windows Live ID unlocks more services than any other username/password in the world means that it is an obvious choice for me to use it. This is why (even given recent problems) I will use Soapbox rather than Youtube, Hotmail rather than GMail, Live Q&A rather than Yahoo Answers, Live Messenger rather than Yahoo Messenger and Live.com rather than iGoogle. And don’t forget its not just Microsoft-badged services; Expedia for example allows me to login using my Windows Live ID as well. I love Flickr’s service (as I have said before) but if Microsoft provide a comparable service then I will undoubtedly migrate to it – that means one less username/password to maintain (plus Flickr costs me money). Oh, and did I mention that my Windows Live ID gets me into all the online services that I need for my day job such as the MSDN Forums and SQL Server Connect?
I know I’m probably in the minority with my desire to get all my online services using a single username/password but y’know, that’s just me. I know most others will be different.
UPDATE: You could do worse than read Windows Live Program Manager Yaron Goland’s blog entry here where he talks about Windows Live services interoperating with everything else. He says "…for us to succeed we have to convince users to keep some of their data/services with us and then make it brain dead easy to connect the data/services they keep with us to all the other data/services they keep in lots of other places."
Ever thought you’d hear those words coming from the keyboard of a Microsoft employee?
UPDATE 2: Mike Torres has an interesting perspective on Joe Wilcox’s criticism’s of Windows Live not supporting other web APIs like Flickr. Read it here.
UPDATE 3: There’s a really good 7minute video here that emphasizes the point about Windows Live ID being the key to all of this. Its good to finally hear this coming from a Microsoft employee.
Microsoft will be hoping that this offering starts to drive heavy adoption of other Windows Live services - it could be their make or break. Hence, I’ve been thinking about what offerings they will have around this and also how other Windows Live Services will leverage it. Here are some predictions:
- I think you can virtually guarantee that everyone will get some space for free and then they’ll offer more space for a subscription fee. If they have any sense they will offer premium packages as well – I envisage Office Live customers going for that in a big way.
- Disk space is cheap and getting cheaper so the subscription model will be driven by bandwidth, not by space used (this is the model that Flickr uses). The more you use your stored content, the more you pay.
- Photos on Live Spaces will get stored in your Live Folders.
- Shared folders in Live Messenger will migrate to Live Folders.
- There will be a Live Spaces gadget for viewing your Live Folders.
- Windows Explorer will be your desktop client for accessing Live Folders. You will be able to effortlessly drag-and-drop between your local folders and your Windows Live Folders. This should mean that you will also be able to access your Live Folders from your existing software such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Adobe etc… And of course, because this is a cross-platform service you will be able to store those documents on Live Folders then access and edit them from (e.g.) a Mac.
- Pictures/photos stored in public Live Folders will be indexed by Live Search Images.
- Soapbox videos will be migrated to be stored in your Live Folders.
- Music and film distributers will start to come down hard on Microsoft when people start making copyrighted material available to the public on their Live Folders.
- Favorites will be stored in Live Folders
- Before long all web-based access to your Live Folders will be done using a Silverlight interface.
- There will be an API to enable 3rd party apps to use Live Folders.
- There will be Live Folders offerings bundled with Windows Home Server.
All this will be tied together by your Windows Live ID. Microsoft will be hoping that their investment in Microsoft Passport all those years ago is now gonna pay off huge.
Like I said, these are only my predictions. Don’t expect that any of this will actually happen.
The much-vaunted storage-in-the-cloud service from Microsoft’s Windows Live is soon to see the light of day. Oft referred to as Live Drive, it seems as tho Sky Drive or Windows Live Folders is the more likely moniker. Shame – I kinda liked Live Drive.
As usual Liveside were first with the scoop:
- "Live Drive" is almost here – Windows Live Folders beta
- Windows Live Folders beta – more info
- Windows Live Folders Part III
Click-through on the links to read all the juicy details.
Chris at Liveside mentioned that a client app will doubtless appear at some point. Well in my opinion a client already exists. If Microsoft are serious about software-and-a-service -which means that Live Services will complement existing software- then Windows Explorer should be the client. That way its a seamless transition to using Sky Drive - people might not even know that they’re using a new service. As far as they are concerned its just an extension of Windows and that means that people can access their online storage from within all of their existing software and not just from a single client tool. Plus there doesn’t have to be more naming fiascos - Windows Explorer has already got the right name.
Granted – they’ll need a client for non-Windows op systems. There’s an interesting thought – Windows Explorer running on a Mac.