Hands-On with Microsoft's Handy New SkyDrive Features

Microsoft recently added some new features to SkyDrive, the company's free online file storage service, that make it easier to share and manage your files online. You can now use SkyDrive to easily share individual files via email or on social networks, and use Windows-style file management capabilities online such as move and copy. Microsoft has also added a new HTML5-based drag-and-drop feature to upload files to your 25GB of free SkyDrive storage.

SkyDrive's new improvements are a lead up to Windows 8, expected in 2012, where SkyDrive will play an important role for services such as multiple device file sync. The new functionality is also about playing catch up to competing online services such as Dropbox for storage and sharing and Google Docs for document editing.

Here's a look at the highlights for Microsoft's new SkyDrive functionality.

Sharing Made Easier

SkyDrive sharing used to be a chore since you could only share folders and not individual documents. This forced you to be careful about how you organized your data since you didn't want a private document ending up in a shared folder. The new SkyDrive gets rid of that problem allowing you to share individual files or whole folders without much hassle.

To share individual documents just select the document from the main SkyDrive window and select "Share" in the far right panel. This will open up a pop-up window giving you the option to share your file via e-mail, generate a link to the document or share your document on Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn. If you are currently editing your document online and want to share it click the "Share" link in the web app menu bar.

Let's say you decide to share a document via email with your co-worker Bob and you want him to be able to edit the file. At the bottom of the sharing pop-up window you will see two checkboxes: "Recipients can edit" and "Recipients must sign in to view." Select the options you need, hit the "Share" button and Bob will then receive an email with a link to the shared file.

If you don't require Bob to sign-in to view the file he will only be able to view the document online. To edit the file online Bob has to be signed in to his SkyDrive account.

Sharing a document on any of the three social networks posts a link to the document on your profile for each service. You can also choose to allow your friends to edit your documents so you might want to be careful about sharing documents on social networks.

If you want to create a link to share a document you can select three types of sharing permissions: view only (for people you choose), view and edit, or public. The public option is view only and does not allow the whole world to edit your file.

If you ever want to remove sharing permissions from a file just select it, and then in the far right panel click on the "X" next to the sharing permission you want to revoke such as Facebook or a person's email address.

In my tests, sharing was pretty easy, but several attempts to send documents to Gmail accounts failed. Microsoft says its new sharing options make it easier to share with non-Microsoft Live accounts, but the company appears to have a few bugs to work out.

Another important point to remember is that if you share file formats such as RTF (rich text format), users will only be able to download the file and won't be able to view it online. Microsoft's web apps only allow you to edit and view a small set of Microsoft-approved file formats.

Drag-and-Drop Uploads

Similar to features in Google Docs and Gmail you can now drag-and-drop files to upload files to SkyDrive from your PC. Just select your file and drop it in to the SkyDrive window. You can drop files into a folder or just in your main SkyDrive page.

Once you drop a file into SkyDrive, a pop-up window appears at the bottom of the browser page showing you the upload progress. You can continue to browse your other files while your document is uploading. SkyDrive's new drag-and-drop feature relies on the HTML5 File API, so you will need a modern version of browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari for this feature to work.

Microsoft allows you to upload all kinds of file types using the new drag and drop feature including office documents, photos and, in my tests, music.

File Management

SkyDrive also has some new file management capabilities that make it easier to handle files. Right-clicking on a filename gives you options to view or edit the document in your browser, open in a desktop application such as Word, see the document's version history, download, rename, delete, generate an HTML 5 embed code for a blog or website, or share the document. If your file is in a folder, you will also have the option to move or copy the file to another folder in SkyDrive.

Microsoft also added a new slideshow feature to SkyDrive that the company says is faster than the previous version, and support for PDF and RAW file formats.

If you're looking for an easy way to store and edit files online, give Microsoft's SkyDrive a try.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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