Microsoft puts itself on a collision course with Apple as SkyDrive and iCloud storage services get deeper integration into the desktop, via Windows 8 and OS X Mountain Lion.
Microsoft is working to transform SkyDrive from a peripheral utility to an integral part of how consumers manage their digital lives in a campaign that will undoubtedly see it butt heads with Apple, which has similar ambitions for its own iCloud storage service.
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"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," said SkyDrive group program managers Mike Torres and Omar Shahine, in a blog post Monday.
It's "our goal to be the world's hard drive," said Torres and Shahine.
Microsoft launched SkyDrive in 2008. The service counts 17 million users, but it has drawn criticism for being difficult to use compared to specialty offerings like DropBox. To make SkyDrive more accessible for everyday computer users, Microsoft is integrating it directly into its Windows 8 ecosystem.
Access to SkyDrive will be available through a dedicated Windows 8 app, and all Windows 8 Metro apps will offer the ability to open and save files in and to SkyDrive, so that users can easily port data and content to the cloud service from tablets. Metro developers can also build in the option for users to automatically save files to SkyDrive.
"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," said Torres and Shahine.
Beyond Metro apps, Microsoft also plans to tightly integrate SkyDrive into the traditional Windows desktop through Windows Explorer, starting with Windows 8 PCs. That means SkyDrive will also be accessible through a non-Metro desktop app that the company plans to release.
"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 will be available with SkyDrive on the desktop," said Torres and Shahine.
While Microsoft's goal to be "the world's hard drive" is aggressive, it's not alone in that ambition. Apple also is planning to make cloud services an integral part of its ecosystem experience as it builds iCloud access directly into its next operating system, OS X Mountain Lion--set for release in the coming weeks.
The addition of iCloud to the desktop allows Mac users to upload, store, and access content to and from the cloud, and shift it to any of their devices, in the same way that iPhone and iPad users have been able to ever since Apple released iCloud for iOS devices last year.
This sets up yet another battlefield on which Apple and Microsoft will compete--the battle for the personal cloud. Both companies will likely grab significant market share, and what's also nearly certain is that personal clouds will create more challenges for enterprise security managers.
One major concern is that corporate data could more easily find its way into personal clouds as uploading becomes almost automatic on Microsoft and Apple platforms. "I'd like to suggest to all of you in enterprise IT organizations that changing to adapt to a world of what I call DTTU (that's "direct to the user") has become absolutely unavoidable," noted Gartner VP Brian Prentice, in a blog post.
Prentice was referring specifically to iCloud, but Microsoft's plans for SkyDrive on Windows 8 will also bear watching by security managers.
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