The offer of 25GB of free space has always been one of the most attractive features of Microsoft’s SkyDrive, but surprisingly it’s never been particularly easy to integrate that space with a Windows machine. While Windows 8 promises a much tighter level of SkyDrive integration, a newly-released tool from Microsoft makes files in your SkyDrive easily accessible from any Windows 7 or Vista machine. The one catch? If you haven’t already used SkyDrive, you now only get 7GB, not 25GB.
Once you’ve installed the app, everything you put in your newly-created SkyDrive folder will automatically be synced with your online SkyDrive account. You’ll also have access to files that already existed in your online SkyDrive folders. In other words: it’s more or less exactly like Dropbox, though the status messages about how files are being uploaded aren’t quite as detailed.
The installation is very straightforward, and the syncing seemed fairly fast (though I haven’t got a lot of files in my existing SkyDrive setup). The biggest disappointment is that it doesn’t work on Windows XP. You also can’t directly sync other folders, though you can add your SkyDrive to existing Windows Libraries or change the default location for Documents to be the SkyDrive folder. (To be fair, similar limitations and workarounds also apply to Dropbox.)
One important point: Microsoft is planning to make the free storage total for new SkyDrive signups 7GB. That’s still more generous than Dropbox, and likely to be similar to the limits for Google’s similar Google Drive service, which is also expected to launch this week/. However, if you have already used SkyDrive, you can keep the existing 25GB free you already have. Just visit this link and opt in for the free storage upgrade. It’s said to be a time-limited offer, so it’s worth taking up even if you don’t actually use SkyDrive often. (Microsoft will also offer paid storage upgrades but hasn’t yet released Australian pricing.)
Microsoft already offers SkyDrive apps for Windows Phone 7 and iOS, and those have also been upgraded this week. There’s also a new version for Mac which integrates with Finder. All can be downloaded from the link below. SkyDrive is a free service, requires a Windows Live ID (what, you don’t have an old Hotmail account lying around?)