I’ve made no effort to hide my disdain for so many things Microsoft, that I doubt anyone I know could accuse me a being a fanboy with a straight face. My blog probably doesn’t represent some of the more cynical opinions I have, but I assure you my heart has been hardening for years. What did I learn today that was impressive enough to write about?
Having been a Dropbox user for a long time, recently considering upgrading to a paid account for the additional storage, I now find that Microsoft just might — MIGHT — offer an alternative that’s worth using. Why not just give it a shot and see if Redmond has managed to learn what makes products like Facebook, Instagram, Firefox and countless other bleeding edge web solutions so appealing to consumers. (note: if you’re one of those people who always seemed to give Microsoft a fair chance to impress you after countless discouragement and crap products, you’re probably not the target audience of this post.)
I sat staring at this screen for a good long while, debating whether or not to log in and which account I should use. The predecessor to Windows Live ID, Microsoft Passport, was such a ridiculously cumbersome and disjointed product that the faint shard of hope, resting precariously on the edge of my expectations, was sure to be crushed again. I finally decided to login with the account I use for XBox Live.
Much — MUCH — to my surprise, I didn’t have 4 extra forms to fill out or hoops to jump through or “please confirm your personal information so we can mine even more of your data” interstitials. The very next screen (which loaded faster than most Google search result pages) was the SkyDrive web front end. No nonesense. Just the UI.
Ok. Fair enough. Next hurdle.
In a conversation with my buddy Paul (can you just hear those dimes a droppin’?) about 6 months ago, he lamented the notion that anyone would bother using Dropbox over Skydrive for both the capacity differences (at the time: SkyDrive=5Gb / Dropbox=2Gb) and one subtle annoyance I’ve always had with them — the restriction of needing a specific folder from which to synchronize your stuff. It’s one thing to make a product that adds value to my digital life. It’s another thing if that value is offset by an irritating limitation. He told me that you don’t have to keep your stuff actually inside the root sync folder. Your files can be anywhere on your computer and SkyDrive would sync them.
Out of the box, the Windows (7) SkyDrive client doesn’t provide options to configure this. Ugg… Google? First Result: How to configure custom folder locations in SkyDrive. Running the basic command:
mklink /J "C:\Users\username\SkyDrive\Media" "D:\Media"
using an elevated privilege command prompt where
“C:\Users\username\SkyDrive\Media” = a “symbolic link” in your SkyDrive synchronization folder and
“D:\Media” represents the folder on your system you actually want to sync
this challenge is handled pretty well. It might look like a hack (and it probably is on some level when a non-savvy users has to run a command prompt as Administrator), but it’s relatively easy to perform for basic users with a little help from their son-in-law the IT geek.
Ok. But what about sharing a file or folder with the public? A presentation you don’t want to stick on a thumb drive, or a resume you want to edit at work that you don’t want to save on your work computer?
Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy. Here are some of the options you have. (All of these options are available via a robust competing product, Google Docs, but MS does it with more elegance.)
If you want to link a folder on… oh say, your blog… you can snag the embed code with the click of a mouse. Clicking the blue “Embed” link on the right of the main interface, then “Generate” on the pop-up window will give you code that you can easily drop into a blog post or something less transient.
|The following code:||Generates this embedded link|
|<iframe src=”https://skydrive.live.com/embed?cid=F8801944C13ECE71&resid=F8801944C13ECE71%2111730&authkey=AIn2IY3gqiMY-2A” width=”165″ height=”128″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe>|
If you want to give some people write access and still others only read access, click the “Share” link on the right hand side. Here are screens of the options you get. Again, these options are available in Google Docs and Dropbox, but implemented better by Microsoft.
Does this make me want to run back to Microsoft like a lover begging for a second chance? Hardly. One well-implemented app does not a humbled transgressor make. However, it would be hard to argue against a product that, at first blush, has given me reason to hope for the possibility of consumer-centric apps that take the same simplified approach found in just about any Y-Combinator graduate company.
I realize my “discovering” SkyDrive can easily be classified in the late-to-the-party file. But I have an excuse. Cynicism.
Microsoft, this is impressive.