Microsoft SkyDrive upgrade takes aim at Dropbox

Microsoft has set its sights on Dropbox with a new set of features for its cloud storage service SkyDrive that syncs files and folders between SkyDrive and the local machine.

A new SkyDrive application makes files stored in the SkyDrive cloud visible via Windows Explorer for machines running Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, meaning that files up to 2GB can be dragged and dropped into and out of SkyDrive.

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Management features of Windows Explorer work with SkyDrive files and folders, and applications that need to work with folders can tap folders stored in SkyDrive as well as those on the machine itself, according to a Microsoft blog.

These features will help SkyDrive compete against Dropbox, the Web-based file hosting service that doesn't have some of the synching features of the new SkyDrive client.

Using SkyDrive requires downloading the SkyDrive for Windows application, now in its preview form. It creates a folder on the device and syncs it continually as users make changes. If a file is deleted from SkyDrive.com, it is also deleted from the folder. If a file is created on the device, it appears in the folder.

This sharing can be made less obvious by adding SkyDrive Documents to local Documents folders or image files from SkyDrive Pictures to the local Pictures folder.

The SkyDrive application can also be used for remote access to a PC. Users log in to SkyDrive.com, perform a second authentication and gain access to the remote machine. The second authentication factor can be sent either to an alternate email address or to a mobile phone that must be in the user's possession.

The client is available for both Windows 7 and Windows 8 as well as Windows phones and iPhones, but not Android smartphones. A new app for iPads is also available.

SkyDrive comes with 7GB of free storage, and more can be bought at annual rates of $10 for 20GB, $25 for 50GB and $50 for 100GB, which compares well to Dropbox where 50GB costs $120 per year.

The new version of SkyDrive supports managing the service from Finder on Mac OS X devices, so any application that uses the file system can access SkyDrive as well.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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