Microsoft SkyDrive: Your ultimate starter's guide

It's become incredibly easy to compute while you commute. Our laptops, tablets and even smartphones offer productivity functions ranging from excellent to serviceable, and pervasive broadband (hello 4G!) gives us the connectivity speeds we need to quickly summon up documents and data from the cloud.

That's how it works in theory, at least. Efficiently accessing all of your personal data in the cloud is rarely quite as simple as it sounds.

Between Dropbox, Box.net, Microsoft SkyDrive, Apple iCloud, and other services, a plethora of cloud-based storage options compete to provide you access to your documents, photos, and other data from all your different devices. Although not quite as popular as Dropbox (which has been around for years) or iCloud (which has a big built-in user base), Microsoft’s SkyDrive is poised to make a big splash when Windows 8 officially launches in October. The Windows 8 SkyDrive app is prominently displayed on the Windows Store, and Windows Phone 8 is expected to seamlessly integrate your SkyDrive account with your smartphone.

But you don't need to wait for Windows 8 to start taking advantage of SkyDrive, as SkyDrive apps are already available for just about every major computing platform, and if an app isn’t available for your operating system of choice, files stored in your SkyDrive folders are still accessible via a Web browser. In this guide, we'll show you how to set up SkyDrive on your PC, how to access your SkyDrive account from different devices, and how to use a few tips and tricks to get the most from this free service.

How to get started with SkyDrive

With Windows 8 (whether Standard, Pro, Enterprise, or RT), a Windows 8-style version of SkyDrive is installed by default with the OS and is available on the Start screen as soon as you boot up your PC. If you prefer to stay in Desktop mode while using your Windows 8 PC, you'll need to install the stand-alone SkyDrive application. (Using SkyDrive on any platform that doesn't run Windows 8 also requires the installation of this stand-alone app.)

The Windows 8 SkyDrive app should come preinstalled on your Windows 8 PC, but you can also download it from the Windows Store. (Click any screenshot to enlarge.)

To install the SkyDrive application on a desktop PC, simply open the SkyDrive homepage in your browser of choice and click on the Get SkyDrive button. The installation process is pretty simple: If you’re running Windows, you need to click the Download SkyDrive For Windows button and save the file to your system. If you’re running Mac OS X, click on the Mac OS X link in the text at the top of the page and then click on the Download button on the subsequent page.

Once the download is complete, simply double-click on the downloaded file to launch the SkyDrive installer. Follow the on-screen prompts to complete the installation; when you're ready to configure your SkyDrive account, go ahead and launch the program. The first time you launch the SkyDrive app, you’ll be asked to sign in to a Microsoft account. If you don’t have one, you'll see a link to sign up for free; go ahead and set one up now, since you'll need it if you ever install Windows 8. Sign into SkyDrive, and a group of folders will be created on your system—any time a file is placed into one of these folders, it will automatically be synced to Microsoft’s servers, provided an active Internet connection is available.

The Windows 8 SkyDrive app has limited functionality at this time (it's hard to move files between folders within your SkyDrive account from the app, for example). For best results, download the stand-alone SkyDrive desktop app.

SkyDrive offers users 7GB of storage space for free; you just need to download the app and sign up for a Microsoft account. If you want (or need) more space, Microsoft offers different levels of additional storage for an annual fee. At this writing, 20GB of space is available for $10, 50GB for $25, and 100GB for $50, annually.

If you want to access data stored in your SkyDrive account on your tablet or smartphone, the free SkyDrive app is available for download in almost every platform's respective app store. SkyDrive is available in the iTunes store for iOS-based devices, in the Google Play Store for Android-based devices, and in the Windows Phone Marketplace for Windows Phones.

Touch the Sky(Drive) from any device

Now that you've set up a SkyDrive account, actually using the service is simple. If you're running Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8, your SkyDrive folder will appear in File Explorer; on Macintosh systems, they’ll appear in the Finder. By default, inside the parent SkyDrive folder, the app creates three more folders—Documents, Pictures, and Public.

The SkyDrive desktop app will create a folder on your PC that automatically syncs with your SkyDrive storage account.

Anything placed into these folders will automatically be synched to Microsoft’s servers when a connection to the Internet is available and the SkyDrive app is running (it runs automatically with the OS). When a file is dragged into one of these folders, the SkyDrive icon in the system tray will report the status of the synchronization process and report “SkyDrive – Up to date” when the sync is complete. Once the sync is finished, the files are stored on Microsoft’s servers and will be available to other devices.

Using SkyDrive on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets is equally simple. Once you have the app downloaded and installed, a SkyDrive icon will be available in your list of applications. Open the app, sign in, and your SkyDrive folders will be listed along with some details regarding their content.

The SkyDrive mobile application for Android (left), Windows Phone (middle), and iOS (right) not only gives users access to their SkyDrive folders through the app, but integrates with the mobile OS for easy file and image syncing.

Besides allowing you to access your SkyDrive folders, however, the SkyDrive mobile app also adds some neat sharing features based on the capabilities of your mobile device. For example, you can snap a photo or record a video from within the SkyDrive app and store it directly to your SkyDrive folder or send it to a shared SkyDrive folder so that your friends and family can see it no matter what device they're using.

Subscribe to the Business Brief Newsletter

Comments