Review: Windows 8 – Cloud connectivity

PC Settings Sync Your Settings - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

Pocketables is reviewing a different aspect of Windows 8 each week until the operating system’s public launch on October 26. Having just taken a look at personalization, it’s time to dig into Windows 8’s top-notch cloud connectivity.

One of Windows 8’s greatest but somewhat hidden features is its deep integration with the cloud. It’s not always apparent right off the bat, but once you experience what it’s like, it is impossible to go back. This is because Windows 8 strikes a nice balance between content stored locally and content stored in the cloud.

The central component to Windows 8’s cloud connectivity is your Microsoft account. Windows 8 recommends that you log in with your Microsoft account when you first create your profile, but you can always switch from a local account to a Microsoft account (and vice versa) at any time in the PC Settings.

Once everything is set up, Windows 8 will automatically begin syncing your settings to every PC on which your Microsoft account has been configured. Synced settings include your Start screen color, desktop background, lock screen wallpaper, account picture, desktop theme, taskbar settings, browser history and favorites, and much more. It will even sync settings and in-app purchases for select apps (like your account options in MetroTwit), provided that the developer has included support for it.

This sounds great in theory, but it’s even better in practice. Imagine coming home from your local Microsoft Store on Windows 8 launch day with a brand new Surface tablet. You log in for the first time, and suddenly your account picture appears in the upper-right corner. Pinned sites begin to filter in from your other Windows 8 PCs, and your HomeGroup is suddenly configured properly. This is in addition to the sudden influx of all of your contacts, emails, calendar, and other data. Any changes in the future are automatically reflected on your other devices, regardless of whether you’re running Windows 8 or Windows RT. Frankly, the only disappointment is that it doesn’t sync the exact organization of your live tiles and pinned sites as well.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like to store their data in the cloud, Microsoft has included a master on/off switch in the PC Settings for a sync-free experience. You can also granularly control which aspects of your settings are synced. These are split into categories like personalize, desktop personalization, passwords, ease of access, language preferences, app settings, browser, and other Windows settings. There’s also the option to disable sync over metered connections or when you are roaming.

Of course, one can’t forget the new app connect feature, which allows you to save or access data stored in another app or in the cloud from any file picker. Simply click or tap on Files and then select the app in question from the drop-down menu. The recently-updated Bing app, for example, will now let you update your lock screen background or account picture without ever opening up the actual Bing app.

All of these features – and a few others, as well – make Windows 8 the best and most cloud-connected OS to date. When paired with an app like SkyDrive for Windows desktop, it’s possible to become completely cloud-based while the OS and associated programs and apps maintain local copies for speed and accessibility. Keeping various devices in sync has never been easier.

Next week: PC Settings. For our full coverage, check out the Windows 8 review portal.

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William Devereux

William Devereux is the former Microsoft editor at Pocketables, as well as a Microsoft MVP and SkyDrive/ 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.

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