The cloud continues to be the sexy Buzzword in technology today. Everyone seems to need it now, even though many have already been using the same technology through email, network file storage, etc. But now, we are doing in the "cloud", where someone else worries about backing up our data. There are a number of different ways to define the cloud, but for me it means putting files and services on the Internet, allowing any device to access the data as needed. So today, as I look for various ways to back up my data for a trip next week, I thought I would check out Microsoft's SkyDrive and Windows Mesh.
Microsoft's SkyDrive is, essentially, online storage much like web-accessable storage through Dropbox. For the Mac, you upload your data using a web browser, and you can then access that same data using any internet-enabled device. Ideal for documents, the browser-based storage tends to choke when transferring large files. That's too bad, because Microsoft gives an impressive 25 GB of free storage, enough to make any file hoarder drool. Also, if you are looking to upload folders through the browser portal from a non IE browser, you are pretty much out of luck. Active X is required to get it to work, which is a problem for those of us on the Macintosh, or those in the Linux world.
One other feature is the ability to open, edit, or even create a Microsoft Office document from your SkyDrive, making it similar to Google Docs but with more storage capability (at least for free). This is a neat feature for quick collaboration, as you just share a folder with your documents in them and anyone can edit from the browser. If you try to access the edit feature from your iPad or iPhone, it's not there. That's similar to early versions of Google Docs, though now at least you can edit your documents in Google Docs on your iOS device.
But the huge, gaping hole here is lack of access to the drive outside of the browser. There are some software out there that does provide access, such as SMEStorage's Mac Cloud Tools app, but I shouldn't have to purchase software just to use the storage the way I want. You can also upload documents directly
But what about the features that Dropbox has, where you can drop a file in a folder and have it automatically sync to your devices? Well, for that type of feature, you would need Windows Mesh. Windows Mesh is for Windows Vista/7 and Mac OS X 10.5 and newer only, but it allows someone to drop a file into a synced folder and have it automatically upload to another computer. You can view your devices you have synced, and all the folders you have synced from the Windows Mesh website. Once the synchronization is complete, then you can also view the data you dropped in the folder from that same website. What it doesn't do, that Dropbox does, is provide access to the Mesh folders using an iOS device (beyond the web browser). A dedicated app would do wonders for those of us that use iOS. That being said, for documents, you can use Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac to save and retrieve your SkyDrive-saved documents. A very nice feature that will be coming to iWork as part of iCloud very soon.
So overall, it's a nice service. Some features like Dropbox, some like Google Docs, some like the future iCloud, and in general fairly useable. Not exactly what I was looking for, but definitely something I will continue to use.