SkyDrive for Mac: Microsoft’s Cloud Storage Solution

If you were a SkyDrive user before April of last year, you probably got that free 25 GB storage bump, or if you’re an Office 365 user, you may have a chunk of storage sitting around. Even with a new SkyDrive account today, you’ll get 7 GB of free storage. Pony up $10, and you’ve got yourself an additional 20 GB for the year.

In fact, with a whopping 100 GB only running you $50 per year, SkyDrive is probably one of the least expensive cloud storage and file synchronization services out there. What do you get for your money, though? We’ll take a look at the SkyDrive app for Mac and see how well it compares to the competition.

Getting Started

You’ll first need a SkyDrive account, and with that comes 7 GB of storage. Don’t worry if you haven’t signed up, yet. We’ll wait, just let us know when you’re done. All set? Great! Now that you’ve got your account, the SkyDrive installation app is going to create a SkyDrive folder somewhere on your computer. You tell it where, but remember if you move it later, SkyDrive’s going to get bummed out and stop working, and you’ll just have to re-link everything.

SkyDrive will have thrown in a few catch-all subfolders during account creation, and when you set up your SkyDrive folder on your hard disk, it’s going to ask whether you want to sync those. If you want, SkyDrive can sync only the folders you designate, or it can sync everything within your SkyDrive folder. If you haven’t used your SkyDrive account yet, though, you won’t have any individual folders to sync up, beyond the empty defaults, but you can access these options later in the Choose Folders tab of your preferences.

Choose what to sync to SkyDrive.

Choose what to sync to SkyDrive.

There’s a catch, though, if you choose to sync everything. SkyDrive isn’t going to backup all the files on your computer. First of all, you can only upgrade to a max of 100 GB of storage, and most of us are living larger than that in 2013. Secondly, SkyDrive only syncs what’s in your SkyDrive folder, so unless you intend to move your User folder into your SkyDrive folder (Pro Tip: Don’t!) you’re never going to get everything in that one place.

SkyDrive isn’t intended to be a place to backup your files, anyway, or at least not all of them. Think of it more like Dropbox. It will store some, but not all of your files, and you can access them via an attractive and intuitive web interface. If you want to share your files, SkyDrive’s not bad at that, either, but it doesn’t make it easy in the Mac app.

Sharing with SkyDrive

Anything you pop into your Public folder is, well, public, and you don’t have to do anything else to files in your Public folder to make them freely available to the internet at large. You do need a URL, though, and the only way to get that is to head over to the web app. There’s no handy uploader that outputs a shortened URL here. You’re on your own.

SkyDrive creates a folder on your hard disk, and that's how you'll interact with the service on your Mac.

SkyDrive creates a folder on your hard disk, and that’s how you’ll interact with the service on your Mac.

Once at the web app, though, it’s actually pretty simple to get the URL for a file or folder. What you see in the address bar is what you use. No clicking around for the public or sharing URL. SkyDrive will shorten your URLs in the web app if you need it to, and that take a few more clicks to get to, but it’s there. The ability to share files is great, and the ease with which I can get a URL is pretty nice, too, but I’m a big fan of sharing directly from the desktop app, and I wish that had been included here.

Pros and Cons

SkyDrive isn’t going to win any races. It seems to run a bit slower than both Dropbox and Google Drive. If you’ve sprung for the full 100 GB and are trying to fill that up over a weekend, you’re not going to have a good time. That’s a shame, too, because that’s a lot of inexpensive space. I don’t think Microsoft really intends you to upload at a gallop like that, though, since SkyDrive was included in the reboot of their online services last year and was since tied so closely to its Office productivity suite, particularly Office 365. SkyDrive is a place to hold documents and their assets, not your anime collection or all of your 1990s ska albums.

The SkyDrive app itself is very unobtrusive, and will mostly just hang out in your menu bar, if you like.

The SkyDrive app itself is very unobtrusive, and will mostly just hang out in your menu bar, if you like.

Unfortunately, if you’re not a Microsoft Office user, your documents don’t do anything in the SkyDrive webapp except sit there. This isn’t Google Drive, where even if I can’t edit an incompatible document, I can usually at least view it. Competitor Dropbox will allow you to preview documents, images, and media files. Even the widely panned Bitcasa makes a not-so-bad cloud music player in a pinch. With the exception of its pretty decent image viewer, all SkyDrive will do is upload your files and then download them again. If you’ve got Office 365 or one of the other newer Office products, the SkyDrive service itself, which includes cloud autosaves, seems like it’s a pretty sweet deal, but otherwise it’s lacking.

Final Thoughts

So, if you’re trying to decide if you should use SkyDrive, you’ll have to do your own math, adding up all the positives and negatives. The SkyDrive Mac client is a little on the slow side, but it’s certainly not the slowest. You can’t pause syncing without exiting the SkyDrive application, but SkyDrive will preserve the completed files of a partial upload. It’s definitely simple to get things into your SkyDrive – just drag and drop them into your SkyDrive folder – but it isn’t easy to share files directly from the Mac app. The web app looks nice and works well, but it doesn’t do a whole lot.

The SkyDrive service has been around in one form or another for years, so if you’re already a loyal user, there’s no reason not to download the accompanying Mac client. Even if you’re not a SkyDrive enthusiast, I wouldn’t wave you off entirely. While SkyDrive probably won’t replace whatever cloud storage you’re already using, it can certainly work as a nice complement to the online storage and backup system you’ve already got.


Summary

While the Skydrive app works just fine, without an accompanying Office suite, the service ends up just being a place to dump your files. However, SkyDrive's still a pretty cheap place to keep up to 100 GB of your stuff safe in the cloud.

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  • Ralph

    The SkyDrive client doesn’t work every Mac:

    “Your SkyDrive folder can’t be created in the location you selected
    Try a different location. Make sure that the location isn’t on a removable drive, or on a disk that has a case-sensitive format.”

    Developers at Microsoft are as stupid and deprecated as those at Adobe, both of them can’t develop an application, that runs on case-sensitive drives.

    • http://pauladupont.com Paula DuPont

      That’s unfortunate, but I think most people won’t have case-sensitive disks and should be okay. For those that do, Microsoft is alienating customers.

    • http://pauladupont.com Paula DuPont

      For anyone who’s not sure what we’re talking about and wants to know whether their disk is case-sensitive, open Disk Utility, found in Applications>Utilities.

      Select your hard disk and look to the bottom of the window. There will be a “Format” field and it will say something like “Format: Mac OS Extended (Journaled).” If your disk is case-sensitive, it will say it there. The default is case-INsensitive, though!

      (You can also right-click on your hard disk in Finder and select Get Info to see all this, too.)

  • Bob Cob

    How can you say this is the cheapest solution when compared with Bitcasa $10 a month for unlimited storage.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Depends on your needs, but 100Gb for $50/year would be cheaper for most people, even compared to unlimited storage.

    • http://pauladupont.com Paula DuPont

      It’s not the cheapest, but it is among the least expensive. Bitcasa’s in that group, too. However, not everybody needs unlimited storage, and the SkyDrive price point might sting a bit less. :)

  • Adam Adshead

    Unfortunately unless Microsoft allows users (maybe through an “expert” option) to specify folders wherever they reside on the disk, rather than insisting that they live within the Skydrive folder, a lot of people won’t really be able to make full use of the product. My folder hierarchy is defined according to my needs, not how a product tells me I should define them. Dropbox at least allows links. My only option is to have my Skydrive folder on a different disk and use a backup strategy to copy a second version there – but even that won’t work for everything because there’s a limit to absolute path lengths and so, for example, some of my music won’t copy.

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