Map a SkyDrive Folder to Your Windows 7 Desktop
One of the best features of Windows Live is its 25GB of free storage through SkyDrive. In contrast, Google Docs offers you only 1GB of free storage, and SkyDrive uses the typical folder structure you're used to in Windows.
To make SkyDrive even easier to use, you can map it to your desktop, giving SkyDrive similar functionality to an external hard drive. When you map SkyDrive to your desktop, Windows uses a hard-disk icon to represent it, just as for any other mapped drive.
You can map SkyDrive to your desktop in any of several ways, but the easiest method for Windows 7 users is to download the free SkyDrive Simple Viewer utility. First, though, you need to link your Windows Live ID to your Windows 7 user account by clicking Start, Control Panel, User Accounts. (Make sure you're using the 'Large icons' view in Control Panel.)
In the User Accounts window, choose Link Online IDs in the right column and then click Add an Online ID provider. After that you'll be prompted to download the Windows Live Sign-in Assistant from Microsoft, if you don't already have it. Once you've installed the assistant, go back to the Control Panel windows, click the Windows Live ID icon, and sign in with your Windows Live credentials.
Now, download SkyDrive Simple Viewer and unpack the .zip file. You'll get another Windows Live credentials prompt, and then you'll see all your SkyDrive folders in a list. Select the folder you want to map to your desktop, and take note of the WebDAV address above the list of documents in that folder. (See the screenshot here for an example.)
Copy the WebDAV address and then open Windows Explorer by clicking Start, Computer. At the top of the Explorer window, select Map network drive.
Choose the drive letter you want to use for your SkyDrive folder, paste the WebDAV address into the 'Folder:' field, and click Finish. You'll be prompted again for your Windows Live ID; make sure to select Remember my credentials so that you don't have to log on to Windows Live every time you want to access the drive.
Now click OK. After a short wait you can use your mapped SkyDrive just as you would any other storage space, dragging and dropping items, creating desktop shortcuts, and opening files directly on your desktop. Of course, for you to use your mapped SkyDrive, your computer has to be connected to the Internet. (Hat tip to Paul Thurrott for this hidden gem.)
If you're a Windows Vista or XP user, try the free SDExplorer utility to get simplified desktop access to Windows Live SkyDrive.
Windows Live Mesh Beta
Note: Though Mesh is currently available, Microsoft will rebrand this service as Windows Live Sync later this summer. When that happens, some of the features described below may change, but the basic functionality of syncing documents across multiple desktops and the Web will remain the same.
Live Mesh Beta is a free tool that lets you synchronize files and folders across multiple desktops and the Internet. This setup allows you to have the latest versions of your documents available on any Internet-connected PC or Mac system. Microsoft says that a mobile version of Mesh is in development, too, but the company has not released it yet.
You can use Mesh not only to sync but also to share documents with coworkers, clients, or anyone else who needs remote access to a folder. Mesh has a "News Bar" that issues a notification whenever you or anyone else who can access your Mesh folders has modified a document or added to it; in addition, you can use the News Bar to leave notes for other users who have access to a shared folder.
To try Live Mesh Beta, go to mesh.com and sign in with your Windows Live ID. Click Add Device and install the desktop software. Once that's done, Live Mesh will ask you to add folders to Live Mesh. Any folders you select will synchronize with the Mesh Website, as well as with any other computers you add the Mesh desktop software to. Your synced Mesh folders are blue.
Mesh currently gives you an extra 5GB of free storage on top of the free 25GB you get with a SkyDrive account. Once Mesh becomes Windows Live Sync this summer, however, you will lose that extra 5GB; you will have to use up to 2GB (maximum) of your SkyDrive storage for the new Live Sync.
Mesh offers desktop software for both Mac and Windows, but in my tests the Mac software was a little unstable. One day I was unable to install the Mac software on a MacBook running OS X 10.6, even after several tries--a week later, however, I installed the Mac software without a problem. Expect some bugs when using the Mac version. No desktop version of Mesh exists for Linux users, but you can still access your Mesh through the Live Desktop interface.
Another handy Mesh feature is a free remote-desktop function similar to that of the popular service GoToMyPC. To access your remote desktop, select Devices in the Mesh desktop software. You can also go to the Mesh Website and click Devices at the top of the screen. Then choose the device you want to access, and click Connect. For remote desktop to work, the computer you want to access remotely must be turned on and connected to the Internet. Using the remote-desktop feature on the Mesh site requires Internet Explorer 6 or later.
So there you have it: five hidden gems for Windows Live. Any favorite hidden gems that I missed? Add them in the comments.
Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).