Great ways to use SkyDrive

Microsoft has announced that it is rolling out a new update to the SkyDrive application for Windows desktop and for Mac. In addition to assorted bug fixes, this incremental update enables a new photo fetch feature in the Windows 8 Release Preview, increases the max file limit from 150,000 to 10 million, speeds up folder updates, and hides the app icon in the OS X Lion dock. I’ve been using SkyDrive for Windows desktop since it was released just over a month ago, and I’ve been very pleased with the new capabilities it provides. Here are my favorite ways to use SkyDrive.

Access files from anywhere

The ability to access files from anywhere is something you’d expect from a cloud storage service, but that doesn’t make it any less important. When my laptop broke down earlier this year, there were a few weeks where I was forced to rely heavily on SkyDrive while I was out of the house. I don’t know how I would have managed without it. Once the SkyDrive app for Windows desktop was released, I was able to supplement my SkyDrive document collection with all of my music, pictures, videos, and projects. Since then, there have been numerous times where having all of my stuff on SkyDrive has come in handy.

Unlike previous cloud storage or peer-to-peer solutions from Microsoft, SkyDrive only syncs a single folder. But thanks to the Libraries feature in Windows 7 and Windows 8, this isn’t an issue for me. Everything is contained in the SkyDrive folder. All I had to do is change where my Documents, Music, Pictures, and Video libraries look for content.

Retrieve files stored locally

The vast majority of the content on my PC is now stored on SkyDrive, but it doesn’t work for everything. Even with a generous upload speed and plenty of storage space on SkyDrive (at a very competitive price), I don’t exactly want to back up the movies and TV shows I’ve purchased on Zune. In fact, it wouldn’t even work in some cases, since SkyDrive will only sync files up to 2GB in size. This is where SkyDrive’s remote fetch feature comes into play, allowing you to browse and access your entire hard drive, provided the computer is on and the SkyDrive app is running. This feature will be even better in the Windows 8 Release Preview, automatically populating the Photos app with pictures stored locally on other computers.

Remote fetch actually helped me rescue a fellow student a few weeks ago, when his program refused to compile right before a big presentation. Using SkyDrive, I was able to access the necessary game engine libraries on my home computer’s local hard drive and download them to a campus computer. Without it, he would have been lost.

Share files in seconds

SkyDrive has many options for sharing files, including email, Facebook, Twitter, and simple links (either public, view only, or view and edit). My personal favorite way to share, however, is via the SkyDrive app on Windows Phone. When someone asks me to send them a document or photo, I need only pull out my phone, open the SkyDrive app, hit share, and send them the link. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Collaborate

I use SkyDrive to collaborate with all sorts of people. The show notes, voice tracks, and various other files for the CrowdGadgets podcast are stored on SkyDrive, allowing us to update each other in near real-time. I also use it to collaborate on group projects at my university, work files, and even family things like grocery lists.

Edit Office documents for free

SkyDrive includes free web-based versions of the most popular applications in the Office suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. This is very useful when I’m on someone else’s computer. Other services, like Google Drive, allow you to edit documents in your browser as well, but none preserve 100% of the formatting. SkyDrive is also built into the desktop Office applications, allowing you to open and save files directly to and from SkyDrive. This is how I used to access all of my documents before the release of the SkyDrive app for Windows desktop.

Back up the computer

I’ve used all sorts of PC backup solutions, from traditional backups on an external hard drive to online services like Carbonite. But with the SkyDrive app for Windows desktop, I’m seriously considering dropping my current backup solution and going exclusively with SkyDrive. 99% of the important files on my computer are now synced up to SkyDrive, and the ones that aren’t are already backed up or synced to another service, as with Windows 8 settings and LastPass passwords.

Sync files across machines

I also use SkyDrive to keep my various computers in sync. Since everything is stored in my SkyDrive folder, I know I’ll always have a local copy on all of my machines. It would be nice if you could pick which folders to sync on devices with smaller hard drives, but so far this hasn’t been an issue for me.

As you can see, SkyDrive has become central to my life. There are many great ways to use the service, from accessing files wherever I am to collaboration and backups. Other services offer similar features, but in my opinion, none work as well as SkyDrive.

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William Devereux

William Devereux is the former Microsoft editor at Pocketables, as well as a Microsoft MVP and SkyDrive/Outlook.com Insider. As his title implies, he wrote about all things from Redmond, including Windows 8 and Windows Phone. He is currently carrying a Windows Phone 8X by HTC and a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT tablet.