Last week, Microsoft released updates to two of its products that I had been waiting for for a long time.
Skype for Windows Phone
At the beginning of 2011 I had put a Skype app for Windows Phone on my wish list for 2011. But 2011 came and went and there was no SkyDrive app. Even though they showed a pretty complete looking prototype at the //build/ conference that year. Finally, a couple of days ago, the app became available for download. Unfortunately, as this ZDNet headline sums it up Skype for Windows Phone is basically useless. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the fact that the app doesn’t run in the background to accept incoming calls or chat messages reduces its usefulness quite dramatically. So the only way to contact somebody with a Windows Phone via Skype is when they are sitting in front of their phone with the Skype app running, waiting for your call or IM. In other words, basically useless.
The more important release, however, was an update to SkyDrive and the accompanying applications. First off, SkyDrive now offers 7GB of free online storage. It used to be 25GB, but as there was really no way to easily upload that much data, I doubt anyone was using that much storage. If you have been using SkyDrive before, you can take advantage of this limited time offer to upgrade your account to 25GB for free. I did and as I’m writing this, the new SkyDrive application for Windows is busy syncing 12 years worth of pictures to my SkyDrive.
This application, finally, makes it possible to actually use SkyDrive from within Windows. There was a workaround to mount SkyDrive as a network drive, but it was ugly and slow. Now, similar to the way Dropbox works, you designate one folder as your SkyDrive folder and everything in that folder will be synced to SkyDrive and vice versa. I would have preferred it, however, if I could tell SkyDrive specifically which folders to sync. I have organized my files in a certain pattern that has ben perfected over the years. In order to sync my pictures and some of my documents to SkyDrive, some folders had to be moved out of the location dictated by the pattern into the SkyDrive folder. There are also a bunch of files that I have on SkyDrive that I don’t want on my PC, but it leaves me no choice but to sync those as well.
While 25GB of free storage is pretty nice, it’s not perfect yet. It’s kind of surprising, however, that Microsoft has a similar solution, Windows Live Mesh, which has some of the features SkyDrive currently lacks, but not others. Paul Thurrott has a nice write-up comparing SkyDrive, Live Mesh, Dropbox and Google Drive. In the end it comes down to what ecosystem you are invested in. If if you are on Android using a bunch of Google services, Google Drive is the natural choice. So is SkyDrive if you’re like me and already use multiple Microsoft products and services, SkyDrive (as Live Mesh might eventually be folded into it). After all, the integration into Windows, Office and Windows Phone is very convenient. I am a bit perplexed though, why there are two very similar ways to access SkyDrive on Windows Phone. First, through the office hub for Office documents and second through a designated SkyDrive app for all content (including Office documents). I feel, SkyDrive should just be part of the platform, not requiring it’s own app.
In conclusion, the latest SkyDrive release has made the service a lot more useful. However, Microsoft still has a long way to go to make it really seamless. Looks like that might come in Windows 8 (and possibly Windows Phone 8), though, which will have much deeper SkyDrive integration, not only for documents, but also for apps, which is something I have been dreaming about for a while.