Many folks reading this blog are active users of SkyDrive and Mesh, both part of the broad set of Windows Live services (like Hotmail), and the Windows Live Essentials programs (Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mail, and more). With their introduction and with Windows 7, we have talked about how these services really complete the Windows experience. As we developed Windows 8, we thought deeply about how these services can take an even more active role in completing the experience—offering a cloud service for each and every Windows 8 customer and all their PCs (and phones), should you choose to use it. In previous posts (Signing in to Windows 8 with a Windows Live ID and Extending "Windows 8" apps to the cloud with SkyDrive) we kicked off talking about cloud services, how you can automatically roam your settings to multiple PCs, and how applications can take advantage of this roaming. In this post, we will show you three cool things that you will get by choosing to sign up and use SkyDrive with Windows 8.

This post was written by Mike Torres and Omar Shahine, Group Program Managers for SkyDrive.

--Steven


A few months ago we published our vision for designing personal cloud storage. While SkyDrive can store all types of files, the category of personal cloud storage is focused on the content that people create or capture themselves. Today we’re going to provide an update on how we expect to deliver our vision for Windows 8 and simultaneously scale to meet the needs of billions of customers who will store hundreds of petabytes of data in our service.

We think what people want in personal cloud storage is a single drive that’s available across all of their devices, tailored to the experiences they’re using, providing instant, secure, and private access to their files, and sharing files and folders with people they choose. To bring this to billions of people, our approach is to seamlessly connect the files (and behaviors) that people have today on the PC with the app and device experiences that they will use in the future. Rather than using a patchwork of services, people can use one service to connect to their files – with no compromises. No copying files from one cloud to another just to share or collaborate. No converting files or having to switch to new apps. No searching across different storage areas to find files.

Delivering personal cloud storage for billions of people

Today we provide personal cloud storage for 17 million SkyDrive customers. These are active customers who use it every month to privately share photos and collaborate on Office documents. We currently store approximately 10 petabytes of user data (one petabyte is a million gigabytes, or a million billion bytes) and we expect to grow that beyond what some of the largest scale services on the Internet support today (for example, Hotmail stores over 100PB of user data, and since we share much of the same infrastructure, we have a lot of deep insights and knowledge about how to scale SkyDrive). These are important numbers for us. We aspire to be a service that people find useful and valuable on an ongoing basis, not just a service that people happen to register for when they get a new device.

Growing our infrastructure is one of many things we have been busy working on, but most important of these are our investments in sync and cloud scenarios for Windows 8, which will finally bring the DNA of SkyDrive and Mesh together into one service. Given our goal to be the world’s hard drive, we will need to continue to build out the service, and you can expect our pace of improvements to continue through 2012.

This post will cover the ways that SkyDrive will evolve with Windows 8 from a website today into a true device cloud for Windows customers. We’ve organized the post around the three biggest things we’re doing:

  • SkyDrive Metro style app on Windows 8
  • SkyDrive files integrated into Windows Explorer on the desktop, and
  • The ability to fetch remote files through SkyDrive.com

We’ve also prepared a short video demonstrating these three concepts in more detail:


Download this video to view it in your favorite media player:
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SkyDrive as a Metro style app for Windows 8

Inside Microsoft, we’ve all been using Windows 8 on multiple PCs for some time now.  We clean install Windows 8 on a new PC and sign in, and all of our settings, browser history, and customizations just show up. In addition, one of the most important steps we take to make a new PC “ours” is to copy over our personal files – like documents and photos. With Windows 8, we wanted to make sure that your files would be instantly available and up-to-date as you move between PCs – without configuring add-ons or using a USB drive.

One approach to building a modern device cloud is to build a set of proprietary apps that hide files from users. But because we are building a cloud that can store different types of data and lots of it, we decided to take a different approach. We designed a no-compromise cloud experience where enthusiasts will be able to control files the way they want, while others who are less familiar with the file system can still take advantage of the cloud simply by accessing SkyDrive through the apps they use every day.

Enter the new SkyDrive app. With the SkyDrive app, an early version of which will be available at Consumer Preview, we focused on two things: 1) designing a fast, fluid, touch-first version of SkyDrive that makes it quick, easy, and even fun to browse and access your files, and 2) making your SkyDrive available for use from any Metro style app via the file picker (open/save) and the new Share charm in Windows 8.

To build a SkyDrive experience on WinRT, we took an approach that we expect many web developers will choose to take on Windows 8. We built the entire app using modern web technologies like JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5, and because of our recent updates to SkyDrive.com, we were able to use the same JSON APIs and JavaScript object model that the website uses. The only difference on Windows 8 is that we bind the results to modern controls that were built for touch. This is part of the reason it’s so fast, and the touch behavior works so well (and works on Windows on ARM too). Over time, we fully expect the Metro style app and SkyDrive.com to “converge” on functionality so there won’t be a question of which experience someone should use. When using Windows 8, the SkyDrive Metro style app will be the best way to browse and manage your SkyDrive.

Mike's SkyDrive, 12 items, including: Business documents (11), Holidays with Bakers 2011 (279), House Remodel (15), Ixtapa 20212 (186), January Fun 2012 (13), Music, Personal

House Remodel folder contains several images represented by thumbnails, and other files, represented as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel icons.

One of the most powerful features in Windows 8 is the ability to integrate SkyDrive functionality across other apps using charms and contracts. SkyDrive is available as a file picker, so from any app you’ll be able to open files from, and save files to your SkyDrive. If the app developer chooses, you’ll even be able to save files automatically back to SkyDrive. Alternatively, if you’re using a content creation app like a document editor, you’ll be able to save files back to SkyDrive in any folder that you choose.

Together, this will bring a file cloud to every Metro style app, allowing you to open files in your SkyDrive and save them right back to your SkyDrive just like you would on your local hard drive. This will work with any app that supports open and save for documents and photos, and will be the first time anything like this has been possible without any setup or configuration. All you need to do is register your email address on a PC that’s running Windows 8 and then, whenever you save files on SkyDrive, every Windows 8 device you use will provide seamless access to those files.

For app developers, this means that, so long as your app supports opening and saving documents and photos, it will automatically support SkyDrive without any additional work.

SkyDrive will also be available via the Share charm, which allows you to send documents or photos through the Mail app on Windows 8. With one tap, you will be able to choose to share files through SkyDrive instead of sending them as attachments, which means you won’t have multiple copies of your files, each with their own set of changes. And of course, you won’t be limited to the small number of attachments and total file size of most email services since the files are stored in your SkyDrive.

Image shows a SkyDrive album with several photos of a man and his children, and buttons: Choose picture, and Cancel.

An email from Mike Torres to Omar, showing a PDF file that is being shared via SkyDrive. Option is also available to "Send using basic attachments instead".

The best part about building this on the Windows 8 platform is that any Metro style app that enables its users to open and save files will get SkyDrive integration for free. Without adding a single line of code, users of the app will be able to access and store files on SkyDrive. So essentially, SkyDrive is one touch away from any Windows 8 app.

SkyDrive on the desktop

We’re also bringing the power of SkyDrive to every Windows 8 desktop through Windows Explorer and to desktop apps like Office as well.

Since the start of SkyDrive, we’ve consistently heard from our most loyal customers that you want SkyDrive on the desktop, and we’re happy to announce that we will be releasing a desktop app. The benefits are obvious: easy drag-and-drop upload and download support for SkyDrive, anywhere access to your data, offline access, and the power of Windows Explorer to manage your files and folders. All of these things will be available with SkyDrive on the desktop.

To start, we took what we learned from Mesh and FolderShare/Sync and built a very simple, highly efficient app. This app will be available with an installer that’s less than 5MB and that takes about 10 seconds to install. You’ll only need to install it once per PC, as SkyDrive will always keep itself up-to-date. Once installed, your entire SkyDrive will start syncing into the folder you choose (the default location is in a SkyDrive folder under your user folder: %userprofile%\SkyDrive\) and it will always be up-to-date with your latest changes. As you update files on your PC, they’re uploaded immediately to the cloud–and as changes are made in the cloud or on another device, they’ll sync back down to the PC. There’s very little to manage or control and you won’t be bugged with pop-ups or dialog boxes. You won’t even need to know it’s running, as we’ve also spent a lot of time on network efficiency and overall performance.

As an example, here’s an image from Performance Monitor showing performance while a 500MB file is progressively uploading from the desktop to the cloud. You can see how little of the CPU is being used for SkyDrive during idle as well as for the file transfer halfway through (the blue is total CPU, the black is SkyDrive).

A graph showing performance of CPU and of SkyDrive while uploading a large file.

Of course, there are people who will use older versions of Windows for a while, so SkyDrive on the desktop will also run on Windows Vista and Windows 7. If you want to make sure your files come with you to Windows 8 and you’re still running Windows 7, you’ll just put them in your SkyDrive folder. This makes it easier to upgrade to Windows 8 or make sure you can access your files across all of your PCs.

SkyDrive for the desktop will also provide the ability to sync up to your available quota of storage (and the ability to unlock more), along with unmatched performance on your PC. Oh, and we will also have support for uploading large files (up to 2GB) through Explorer, another big request from SkyDrive.com users over the years.

SkyDrive on the desktop gives you a no-compromise cloud experience. Here are some preview images of SkyDrive in action on the desktop. The first one is the SkyDrive folder visible in Windows Explorer, and the second shows the entire Windows Phone camera roll synced automatically to the desktop:

Folder is identified as Mike Torres > SkyDrive and contains 12 folders


Folder path is Mike Torres > SkyDrive > SkyDrive camera roll. Images in folder are shown as thumbnails, and a scrollbar indicates additional images.

Fetching files through SkyDrive.com

With SkyDrive in Windows 8, you won’t just have cloud files synced to your PC. You can also turn your entire PC into your own private cloud, and use its terabytes of local storage to easily access, browse, and stream your files from anywhere by simply fetching them from SkyDrive.com.

When designing the new SkyDrive, we knew not everyone would want to put 100% of their files in the cloud just yet. People are selective, and while some will move all of their files into SkyDrive, others will want to start slowly and use SkyDrive just for roaming some important documents and pictures from their Windows Phone camera roll. Knowing that most people would still have files on a remote PC that weren’t available through SkyDrive, we built a new feature that allows you to “reach across” the Internet to access any file, stream videos, or view photo albums from a remote PC that is running SkyDrive on the desktop. For any remote folder or file, you can also choose to “copy to SkyDrive,” so that you’ll always have it across your devices.

Internally we call this the “Forgot something?” feature. If you forget to put something on SkyDrive, you’ll still be able to access it on your remote PC through SkyDrive.com. We’ve done special work to enable remote streaming of video, and we’ll treat photo albums on your remote PC exactly as we do photo albums in SkyDrive, with the same beautiful full-screen viewer. We realize this is more of an enthusiast feature, as most people won’t have an always-on PC at home, but for those who do, fetching files works like magic.

Here’s how your remote PC will look in SkyDrive.com, and what it will be like to browse your Pictures folder remotely:

A SkyDrive.com webpage, showing many thumbnail images. File path is Krypton > Main (Z:) > Pictures > 2012 > January 2012

Of course, being able to remotely access a PC from a web browser has the potential to be abused. If someone has access to your account, without further protection, they’d be able to browse the entire contents of any SkyDrive-connected PC that happens to be online at that time. Naturally that isn’t something we’re comfortable with, so we’ve added another layer of protection for your remote PCs.

In order to access a remote PC, you will have to provide a second factor of authentication. This requires that you type a code that we send to your mobile phone or alternate email address in addition to having access to your account (if you’re already on a trusted PC, you won’t have to do this every time). This means that anyone wanting access to your remote PC would have to have access not only to your account, but also to either an alternate email or your phone (which they would need to physically possess). Here’s a preview of this:

9 Security 
Two-factor authentication is required before you can connect remotely

Webpage reads: We don't recognize the computer you're using / To continue, enter the code we just sent you. (phone icon) (206) 555-1212. There is a text entry field; a link: I didn't get the code; and a button: Submit. 
We’ll verify your identity using a code that we send to your phone in a text message

This is just the beginning

This is just a brief overview of some of the things SkyDrive will do to make personal cloud storage a seamless part of the Windows 8 experience.

Of course, you will still be able to access all of your files via SkyDrive.com from any web browser with one of the fastest sites on the web. You’ll also be able to work together online from anywhere using Office and the Office Web Apps. We will continue to make SkyDrive available on the devices you use every day, like Windows Phone and others, so you can access your entire SkyDrive on-the-go.

Over the next several months you’ll have access to all of the things we’ve discussed in this post. While there will be a lot more to say about SkyDrive as our story evolves, we hope a small peek under the curtain has helped get you excited for SkyDrive on Windows 8.

Mike & Omar (aka “Momar” around the office)