I remember when I first got the internet the first thing that I did was sign up for an email account. I don’t recall there being many different providers but I do recall that if you signed up for a Hotmail account that you could use this to instant message your friends via MSN. I have kept this account over the years and even though I have a one from all of the main providers it still remain one of my most used accounts.
Now that I have dispensed with the nostalgia I would like to take a look at their current offering. No longer limited to just Hotmail anyone subscribing to the Microsoft mail service now has a ‘Live’ account which supplies the user with 25Gb of email storage space and 25Gb of ‘SkyDrive’ storage among other benefits. The SkyDrive is not dissimilar to Google Docs, which I have reviewed in a previous blog, in that it gives the user storage space on the ‘cloud’ to store their files and access them anywhere on a computer with an internet connection.
The first thing one would think is why would I sign up for a Live account when I already have a Google account? The main difference in the file management is Google converts all uploaded documents to their own file format allowing them to be edited on the Cloud, whereas Live uploads documents as is. Consequently only Microsoft documents that are uploaded are editable. (This is possibly an assumption of Microsoft that everyone uses their software to create documents e.g. Office.) I tested uploading a txt document and I was able to view it but do nothing else with it.
Unusual for Microsoft the full functionality of creating and editing documents on this system is compatible with all of the leading internet browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari) but this is not the pier de resistance, what Live gives is a cut down version of the Office 2010 suite to edit these documents. This effectively means that I could go to a computer that does not have Office installed on it and be able to create or edit documents. There is an option to open in Office if the full functionality of Office is needed to do more advance editing (though this is not supported in Chrome). When save is clicked this file is automatically saved back to the SkyDrive, although if you do leave the document open to long the user will be prompted to sign in again to their SkyDrive. This additional log in did not occur with Google Docs.
The Office on SkyDrive is more advanced than on Google Docs, it includes automatic formatting of text such as capitalisation of ‘i’ and at the beginning of a sentence. It also has the option for spell checking but not grammar.
SkyDrive on the go
If you own a Windows 7 mobile device you will have Office installed which will automatically synchronise your documents to the SkyDrive using the built in app. For iOS users there is very limited functionality, viewing documents can be achieved but the devices are unable to contribute. I am rather surprised with this as SkyDrive is supported in Safari. At the time of writing I was unable to get my hands on an Android device, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was limited to the windows mobile OS.
This is just Microsoft’s answer to Google Docs and as they own the office suite they are able to integrate this into their product and create greater functionality from a documents editing point of view. Otherwise there is not much that differs these products, both give 25 GB of storage with a 50Mb maximum file upload. This is where I think these products let themselves down as there is still the manual process of uploading documents. I have a fast internet connection so I experience very little lag time loading documents. I much prefer the concept of locally stored documents that synchronise themselves to the Cloud (such as Dropbox and SharePoint Workspaces) Documents open as easily and quickly as they would on the machine and do not require a constant internet connection. Say this Microsoft do produce a product call Windows Live Essentials that incorporates a folder synchronising tool as well as photo editing and movie editing, but this is limited to the Windows 7 and Vista operating system.
With ever growing competition between providers I can see this being aimed at younger users as a loss leader, allowing them to use this facility for free on the Web developing the users’ skills, making the Office interface intuitive to the user. I especially see this being aimed at the Student market that would no longer have to purchase the Office suite for their machines and they could go on campus for the full functionality.