Tag Archives: SkyDrive

Why I’m loving having my head in the Microsoft cloud

Microsoft Disclaimer – Yes I am a Microsoft evangelist. I have been working with Microsoft tech for the entire of my working career. I know there are competing technologies out there, some of them perhaps more feature rich, or cheaper, or whatever .. but this is merely a conversational piece about my experience which I still believe is the ONLY supplier you can go to in order to get the complete service across all scenarios from the same supplier … please don’t troll, we don’t feed them here!

I have to admit up front .. I have never really been what you might call an “early adopter”. I didn’t get my first mobile phone until 2001.. Everyone I knew was using laptops for years while I got my first one for myself in 2010, and until recently all of my backups have been to portable disk drives sat in the drawer of my office at home.

Things have changed though .. life is different and a whole lot easier .. I’m moved all of my stuff to “the cloud” just over a year back, and my cloud has a Microsoft logo!

Terminology Disclaimer – Yes, I know .. “The Cloud” .. we used to just call these things Data Centres or 3rd Party Hosting. But you gotta keep with the times eh!

Cloud Services
So .. when I’m talking about “moving to the cloud” what exactly am I referring to? Well .. I’ve split this into two sections; Personal Use and Business Use.

  • Personal Use
    • Email (Hotmail)
    • Personal file storage (SkyDrive)
    • Sync between phone and desktop (Windows Phone)

  • Business Use
    • Email (Office 365 – Exchange Online)
    • Document Storage (Office 365 – SharePoint Online)
    • Collaborative workspaces (can’t believe I’m actually using this phrase.. sorry!) (Office 365 – SharePoint Online)
    • Instant Messaging / Video Conferencing / Desktop Sharing (Office 365 – Lync Online)
    • Development Source Control (Team Foundation Service)

… and I could get all of this for £107 per year …

Personal Use – Email (free)
I guess with this I’ve been a “cloud” user for quite some time. I’ve actually had my Hotmail account for over 16 years (1997 .. shortly after it was purchased by Microsoft). Ok .. so back in my youth I needed an email address and this was going through school as being the “cool new thing” so I signed up (didn’t really use it much for the first couple of years though).

That effectively took care of my personal email needs, and 16 years later I’m still using the same email address (and thanks to the pretty damned awesome junk mail filtering Microsoft have in place, I get very little spam at all, if any!).

Personal Use – File Storage (£32 per year)
So the next thing I was going to look for was personal file storage.. fast forward about a decade and my email account also led me to, of course, SkyDrive. Now this service has been around since 2007 and I got it “for free” because of my Hotmail account. Things really started to get interesting when LiveMesh was launched (the beta coming out in 2008) which allowed you to start syncing files on your workstation with your SkyDrive account.

However .. LiveMesh was quite limited as it would only sync a maximum of 5GB of files to the cloud (regardless of how much free space you had .. I had 25GB of space in my SkyDrive account). I dabbled with this starting off by syncing My Documents and My Pictures using LiveMesh .. but the whole experience was a little bit clunky and to be honest .. with a 5GB maximum on there it was never going to be the most useful service to me. I still had tonnes of files sat on my workstation which I needed physical backups for and only having 1 computer I didn’t really get any value out of a “access my files elsewhere” service either which is also what LiveMesh offered.

Then came the game-changer! SkyDrive for Windows launched. This was huge (for me at least) as Microsoft had effectively opened up the floodgates. The new application  had very simple functionality which I tested for all of about 2 hours before removing LiveMesh as quickly as possible .. a worthy replacement had been found!

The new capabilities of SkyDrive allowed me to sync ANYTHING I wanted with my SkyDrive account online, and I could sync up to my maximum file allowance (25GB .. but now options to increase this in increments up as high as 125GB if needed).

I paid for the full 100GB extra storage (which cost me about £30 per year) and this basically takes care of all my backups. It runs seamlessly in the background, and it backs up all my documents, all my music, my pictures, videos and downloads..

The best part is I can access them through the web, so I go to my parents and want to show them some photos or pull up something from one note I can hop on their machine and all my files are “just there” ..

Personal Use – Phone to Desktop file sync (free?)
The final piece to the jigsaw came together about 3 years ago when Windows Phone 7 was launched. I definitely jumped on this with both feet (my previous smartphones being a Nokia N95 and an HTC HD2). This also had SkyDrive integrated right from the get-go .. I could upload photos (automatically as I took them if needed) .. I could read my office files and documents from the built-in office hub straight off SkyDrive .. and it even used SkyDrive for the Twitter and Facebook storage for uploading images if I wanted to share them ..

I’ve kind of marked this as “free” as I was going to buy a phone anyway. It didn’t cost me any extra to get myself a Windows Phone 7 (in many cases cheaper than leading Android and Apple iOS devices) .. so yes, my phone contract cost me money .. but the cloud file sync bit was “free”.

Business Use – Office 365 (£75 per year)
Well, this was mostly a recent requirement as I was formerly full-time worker and let my employer worry about things like hosting email and storing documents .. but in 2010 I joined the increasingly popular contractor route and set myself up with my own company ..

Luckily Microsoft had also recently launched its own Office 365 services .. probably the best bang-for-your-buck online service you can get with fantastic quality, Enterprise level cover and small-business prices.

For £6.25 per month (I went for the E1 plan) I could get:

  • Exchange Online – 25GB email mailbox with the latest Outlook web access
  • SharePoint Online – My own private SharePoint tenant, with all the standard bells and whistles to play with, and ability to invite external “Microsoft Account” users for free to join in!
  • Lync Online – federated with the MSN Messenger / Live Messenger network and all of the other federated Lync users (i.e. Microsoft / other Office 365 users / most Microsoft partner companies).

This to be honest was a no brainer .. I am a SharePoint professional by trade, lets be honest, I was never going to choose anything else (not to mention for the price and featurset Office 365 is simply the best offering out there).

The best bit is I could create “collaborative workspaces” (sorry again!) where I can spin up SharePoint sites (or site collections) to work on stuff with other people.

The typical use case for me is sharing my finance files with my accountant .. and it felt a lot more professional when I can do this on my own branded site and (using my knowledge and experience of SharePoint) offer customised experience specifically for that need.

Business Use – Team Foundation Service (free)
The final piece to the puzzle was Source Control

I do quite a lot of personal projects, typically working on code samples for when I’m speaking at community events (or writing up code for blog articles).

I really struggled to work out how I could get easy backup for my source control… again this stemmed from my experience point .. I have spent almost my entire development career using Team Foundation Server (with a few painful years on Visual SourceSafe) .. the problem is that TFS hosting is typically damned expensive!

Then the miracle came .. Microsoft was offering a preview service called “Team Foundation Service” (https://tfs.visualstudio.com/).

This allowed me to create my own TFS projects and use full source control and even access to build agents!! This eventually went live and Microsoft announced that for small usage (up to 5 TFS projects) it was completely free!

Well .. I made the big leap a while ago, and I am absolutely loving it! I have had to re-install my laptop twice in the past 12 months and I have never had a less painful experience!

The process for getting all of my local files back ended up being:

  • Install Windows
  • Install SkyDrive for Windows
    • Start folder sync
  • Install Office 2013
    • Configure Outlook, start mailbox sync
    • Start SkyDrive Pro sync
  • Leave running overnight

That was it .. next morning all of my files were back. I have never had to run a “backup schedule” or worry about losing my files … stress free and painless computing. It has been so successful, I’ve even gotten my parents running on SkyDrive!

SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro Explained (Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013)

Ok lets get something straight right off the bat …

SkyDrive Pro is not limited to Office 365. I’ve heard this stated now several times (from both laypersons and SharePoint professionals both) and it is simply not true. If you have a User Profile Service in SharePoint 2013 with My Sites enabled then you get the same SkyDrive Pro features to someone running Office 365 tenants!

Ok, so first off this (https://skydrive.live.com) has absolutely NOTHING to do with “SkyDrive Pro” or SharePoint …
SkyDrive is a free cloud-based storage service that Microsoft have been offering for many many years now. It is part of the Outlook.com family (aka “Hotmail” | “Windows Live” | “Microsoft Account”) and is basically a competing service for the likes of DropBox / iCloud / Google Drive.  By default you get a shared folder allowing you to share files with “the public” but you can also modify the permissions of any folder to either make it available for specific people or for “everyone” if you choose.
It offers a web based interface (as well as apps for Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS and Android) which allows you to store your documents and files, as well as free lightweight browser versions of Word / Excel / PowerPoint / OneNote.
There is also a desktop application (SkyDrive for Windows, which is the successor to the popular “Live Mesh”) which allows you to synchronise chosen SkyDrive folders to any folder on your computer (Drop-Box style) and this allows two-way synchronisation with that folder to “the cloud” where you files will be backed up and securely stored. The default location for this folder is in your main profile folder (e.g. “C:\Users\martin.hatch\SkyDrive”) but you can select any folder location when the application first runs.
The SkyDrive folder when you have SkyDrive for Windows installed
SkyDrive is also one of the default save locations for Microsoft Office 2013 and also has close integration points with Windows 8 (with baked-in SkyDrive apps) and Windows Phone (auto-upload photos to SkyDrive, and it creates a SkyDrive folder to store twitter / facebook photos when you “share” them).
The default flavour gives you 7GB of storage (the largest amount for any of the leading “free” packages) and allows you to expand this through paid-for storage adding up to 100GB extra content (for a total of 107 GB).
Early adopters of SkyDrive were also rewarded with a “free” storage allowance of 25GB instead of 7GB.
SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro in SharePoint 2013 (aka “My Site Documents”)
In the eternal fail which is Microsoft marketing naming conventions, there is also a “SkyDrive” link in the “suite links” bar at the top of each page in SharePoint 2013 (this is identical for both Office 365 and On Premise).
SkyDrive appears as a link in the “Suite Bar Links” in SharePoint 2013
This is actually just a link to the “Documents” library in what we used to call your “My Site”. By default this is an empty document library with a folder called “Shared with Everyone”.
To add confusion to this, the top level title and descriptive text when you navigate to this library clearly calls it “Sky Drive Pro” ..
The “SkyDrive Pro” library.. which you get to by clicking the “SkyDrive” link
Why they called the link “SkyDrive” I don’t really know … perhaps “SkyDrive Pro” would have been a better name (keep reading to find out why !)
SkyDrive Pro 2013 – the Windows Application
Now this is where things get really confusing .. if you install Office 2013 Professional Plus then you also get a new application on your computer called “SkyDrive Pro 2013”
The SkyDrive Pro 2013 tile on my Windows 8 Start Screen
This is an application that runs in the desktop system tray and allows you basic access to “sync a library” with your computer. This can be ANY SharePoint 2013 document library (and I have also used it quite successfully with a number of SharePoint 2010 document libraries as well).
SkyDrive Pro is an application that runs in the System Tray
You can do this in one of two ways:
  • Run the “Sync a new Library” from the system tray, and type in the URL of the document library (you can also type in the URL of a site, and it will list the document libraries for you to select)
  • From the SharePoint 2013 interface click the “Sync” button when viewing a library
The “SYNC” link in SharePoint 2013 will launch the SkyDrive Pro 2013 application

Once you sync a library you get a new “SharePoint” folder which appears in your main profile folder alongside My Documents, My Pictures, etc .. (e.g. “C:\Users\martin.hatch\SharePoint”).

If you have synced some libraries using SkyDrive Pro 2013, you get this folder on your PC

For each library that you sync it will create a new subfolder and will basically keep a two-way sync between the two of them (you add, edit or delete a file here and it gets replicated in SharePoint, and vice versa).

Each new folder will get the name “<Site Title> – <Library Title>” although it seems to trim the library title if it is too long.

The contents of my “SharePoint” folder .. having synced a bunch of libraries from SharePoint

The SkyDrive Pro Folder – (also using the Office 2013 Desktop Application)

Just to confuse things even further, there is also another “special” extra that they threw into the mix.

If you sync the “SkyDrive Pro” library in your My Site (i.e. the one you get to if you click the “SkyDrive” link in the page header) then it doesn’t sync to the SharePoint Folder!

Instead it creates a special folder called “SkyDrive Pro” which has the same icon as the main “SkyDrive” icon (if you have SkyDrive for Windows installed as well!). This is also installed in your profile folder (e.g. “C:\Users\martin.hatch\SkyDrive Pro”).
You can of course run both SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro side-by-side, which is what I have shown below.
SkyDrive Pro folder uses the same icon as the SkyDrive folder ..

This then contains the contents of that actually library, but other than that it works the same way as other synchronised folders.

One thing to note is that if you sync multiple SkyDrive Pro libraryes (say from different My Sites or different Office 365 tenants) then it will create multiple SkyDrive Pro folders.

Syncing more than one SkyDrive Pro folder creates awesome folder names ..

I have read elsewhere that you can rename these folders but when I tried to do this I started getting sync errors!

Trying to “Sync” a SharePoint 2013 folder without “SkyDrive Pro 2013” installed
This is another one which I have heard said before which is that trying to “Sync” a SharePoint 2013 library when you don’t have Office 2013 installed (more specifically the SkyDrive Pro 2013 bit) will automatically install it on the fly… ?? … erm … no it doesn’t.
I tried this on my development VM (which doesn’t have office installed) and I got two weird prompts in a row ..
First I got a weird IE10 “do you want to allow this website to open an app on your computer?” question .. which immediately got alarm bells ringing ..
This could be installing an app on the fly .. couldn’t it?
But then you get a generic “No apps are installed to open this type of link (grvopen)” error .. So basically it was trying to open a file which I don’t have apps supported for.
So it would seem that, no, you can’t sync libraries without SkyDrive Pro 2013 installed.
Fail and Error .. although interesting “Groove” reference
My final parting shot on this is the interesting app type (grvopen) which is clearly a reference to “Groove Open” .. for those who don’t know way back the old SharePoint synchronisation tool was an application called “Groove”. This eventually got replaced with “SharePoint Workspace” which has now been replaced in the latest build with “SkyDrive Pro 2013”.
I honestly don’t know if you can “Sync” with SharePoint Workspace or not, would love to hear if you can!
So, that outlines the rough difference between Sky Drive and SkyDrive Pro J
  • SkyDrive is a free service from Microsoft, and has nothing to do with Office or SharePoint
  • SkyDrive for Windows is a free desktop application which you can use to sync your SkyDrive folders with your computer
  • SkyDrive Pro is the personal library in your My Site, and you get to it from a “SkyDrive” link in the SharePoint 2013 header
  • SkyDrive Pro 2013 is an Office 2013 desktop application which you can use to sync SharePoint libraries to your computer (including your personal “SkyDrive Pro” library)