Understanding Skydrive, Part 1: Skydrive vs. Skydrive Pro

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Skydrive is Microsoft’s service for storing files online and accessing them from any device. It is quickly becoming a core service for every Windows user, as important for you to understand as any program on your computer.

Skydrive is simple and flexible, it’s free, and it’s secure and reliable. Microsoft will give you a generous amount of storage space for your files. You can share them easily with others, making it the best way to share files that are too large to email. Skydrive is becoming more visible now as Microsoft builds it into the Office 365 service and Office 2013 programs (Word/Excel/Powerpoint/OneNote). Skydrive apps are available for Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone, Android, and iOS.

I’m going to write more about how to use Skydrive, but let’s start with a note about the two different ways that Microsoft is using the name.

Skydrive is the service that everyone can use to store personal files online. You log into Skydrive with your Microsoft account.

Skydrive Pro is the service that some Office 365 business subscribers will use to store their work files online. You log into Skydrive Pro with your Office 365 account.

(There’s an explanation here of the difference between Microsoft accounts and Office 365 accounts.)

The concept behind Skydrive and Skydrive Pro is very similar. Both services are designed for storing your individual files – just like the way you use your Documents folder. Neither one is designed to be a central document repository for a business, like the shared Company folder on the server in the closet.

Skydrive Pro is integrated with the other Office 365 business services, so one login and password is used for everything – Exchange mail, Skydrive Pro online files, Sharepoint, and Lync. The Office 365 portal provides integrated access to all the services, and they are tied to the business account – when an employee leaves, the files in Skydrive Pro stay with the business, just like files in an employee’s Documents folder.

[Geeky details: Behind the scenes, the services are built on quite different architecture. Skydrive Pro is actually part of Sharepoint; it’s basically a redesigned Sharepoint MySites document library, simplified and integrated into Office programs and the Office 365 portal. Skydrive Pro uses a different method than Skydrive to sync files to your local computer (and replaces Sharepoint Workspace in Office 2010).]

The only bad news is another bit of branding confusion. Microsoft is upgrading Office 365 this year; Skydrive Pro becomes available for Sharepoint subscribers after the upgrade. (If you only subscribe to Exchange email, you won’t see Skydrive Pro. You can upgrade to a plan that includes Sharepoint at any time.)

After the upgrade, the new Office 365 portal gets a ribbon that provides easy access to all the Office 365 services, including – sigh – “Skydrive.”

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They mean “Skydrive Pro.” Maybe they wanted to save space.  Really, a little consistency wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

Office 2013 works with Skydrive and Skydrive Pro as easily as it does with a Documents folder on your computer. More easily, because it will choose one of the cloud locations as the default place to store documents. If you have a personal Microsoft account and a business Office 365 account, you can use both Skydrive and Skydrive Pro – you’ll see both locations when you click on Open or Save in an Office 2013 program.

I’ll describe the consumer Skydrive service in the next few articles. Business users should keep in mind that they have another option for employee files with Office 365, Office 2013, Sharepoint, and Skydrive Pro.