By Katherine Murray on April 24, 2013 in Best Practices
Although SkyDrive is a big part of Windows 8 and Office 2013, Microsoft’s online data-storage service falls somewhat short of its potential.
Fortunately, you can work around some of SkyDrive’s shortcomings. Here are some tips for living with SkyDrive.
SkyDrive promises run up against reality
I’ve recently completed three books on Windows 8 and Office 2013. Right from the start, I liked the save-to-the-cloud concept that is so much a part of the new OS and suite. During a typical work day, I move among a variety of computers and devices. I thought SkyDrive would provide a storage space for my documents that was simple to use and easily accessed from all my computers and devices. And I thought I could be sure I was always working with the latest version of a file and could also easily share those files with others as needed.
That was the promise of SkyDrive. Reality was something else.
For example, synching files between devices: It seemed I was spending far more time than I should, waiting for SkyDrive to sync the files produced on those various computers and devices. Different computers have different upload speeds. Surprisingly, my phone seems to be the fastest uploader of them all (though a phone is not ideal for managing files).
Frustrated by my SkyDrive experience, I was curious whether other SkyDrive users were troubled by similar problems. This article shares what I learned.
A (very!) short history of the SkyDrive service
SkyDrive has been with us for longer than you might think. Released in 2007, it was known — for about a week — as Windows Live Folders. It was then abruptly renamed Windows Live SkyDrive. In those days, when the cloud was still a novelty, remote-file storage was limited — both from a technology standpoint and in available space. In the ensuing years, as cloud storage has evolved, so has SkyDrive. Available storage space has increased and is now built on HTML 5. Also, its ability to connect to various apps and devices and its file-sharing capabilities have improved.
In 2012, Microsoft added a SkyDrive desktop application that let users more easily sync their files between devices. Now, for example, you can use SkyDrive to remotely fetch a file from any SkyDrive-enabled, Internet-connected computer. That’s handy if, while riding the train to work, you suddenly remember that the only current copy of that all-important presentation is still sitting on your home PC. Using SkyDrive, you can still grab the presentation — as long as you remembered to leave your home computer turned on and active.
Today’s SkyDrive gives new users 7GB of free storage space, and you can purchase up to 25 GB. (If you were using SkyDrive prior to April 2012, Microsoft allowed you to upgrade to 25 GB of storage for free.)
The most recent SkyDrive update arrived late last summer; Microsoft gave its cloud-storage service a makeover more in line with the new look of Outlook.com. Microsoft also invited Mac, iOS, and Android enthusiasts into the SkyDrive fold, giving it cross-platform compatibility rarely seen in Microsoft products. (SkyDrive is automatically included as an app on the Win8 Start screen.)
Sign in to any SkyDrive-enabled device using your Microsoft account, and your settings for that account — as well as SkyDrive preferences — travel with you from device to device. Office 2013 users also find SkyDrive prominently featured in the Open and Save As screens, where you can save a document to SkyDrive as naturally as you would to a folder on your hard drive.
Confronting — and solving — SkyDrive realities
Microsoft’s SkyDrive marketing messages, of course, paint an idyllic picture of anywhere, any-device file access and seamless integration with Office Web Apps. But as I’ve said, the SkyDrive synching is haphazard and sometimes unthinkably slow. For example, after saving a file to SkyDrive on my office system and then waiting for it to show up on the PC in the family room, I’ve sometimes resorted to emailing the file to myself so I could work on it immediately.
If you’ve had similar problems, try some of the following fixes to help your SkyDrive files sync a little faster.
When everything else fails, try this
If you have to resort to this next trick, SkyDrive really isn’t living up to its promise. This workaround is a bit clumsy — and it might seem chancy. But it might help if you’re pressed for time and SkyDrive does not seem to be finished synching your file.
As with most file-synching apps, SkyDrive puts a green checkmark on files and folders when they’re fully in the cloud and ready for access on other devices and for sharing. But sometimes, the checkmark doesn’t appear for an extraordinary amount of time. That can be a problem if, say, your editor is tapping her foot, waiting for that Word-based article you need to submit immediately.
I’ve tried emailing files stored in the cloud and lacking the checkmark; more often than not, the document was incomplete. But for some reason, if I copy and paste the file onto my local computer, the entire file is there! I assume this has something to do with the way SkyDrive saves and verifies files in the cloud.
If you’d like to try this trick, simply right-click the file in SkyDrive, click Copy, and then paste the file into the local folder of your choosing on your computer. Be sure to open the file before editing it or emailing it somewhere, just to make sure all contents are truly there.
SkyDrive will be a better product if Microsoft improves file synching. The easy integration with Win8 and Office 2013 makes it simple to save to the cloud, and the ease with which we can grab and share files among devices is something many of us need as we move from desktop to tablet to phone. But in order for all this magic to work, the files have to be available soon, not four hours from now.
Katherine Murray is the author of Microsoft Office 2010 Plain & Simple (Microsoft Press, 2010), Microsoft Word 2010 Plain & Simple (Microsoft Press, 2010), and Microsoft Word 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press, 2010). She also coauthored, with Woody Leonhard, Green Home Computing for Dummies (Wiley 2009), and she writes and tweets(@kmurray230) about green-tech issues.