I’m really intrigued by online file storage. Some of you may disagree, but I think that it’s a first step toward a future where the vast majority of our digital activities, from working with productivity applications to more basic functions that are currently assigned to the OS, are conducted online. The physical devices we use to connect to our “stuff” will become less centralized, and we’ll be able to access features across multiple appliances. There will be 1000 years of peace on earth. So says Ray Ozzie, so say we all.
It’s already happening with e-mail. Back in the day, ISPs provided subscribers with an e-mail account that provided a modest amount of storage (you were lucky to get 5 MB of storage on the mail server), but most users configured their e-mail client to download messages and remove them from the server, either because of security concerns or limited mailbox capacity. As such, e-mail was chained to the user’s primary PC, just like documents and other files.
Fast forward a decade, and the vast majority of us use services like Windows Live Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo! Mail (sometimes all of the above). They all offer oodles (technical term) of storage, they’re accessible from any PC using a Web-based interface, and they’re not tied to a specific ISP (which is convenient, just in case you change providers). These days, we think nothing of trusting these services to manage this important communications channel. Some have even learned how to exploit the systems, sending files to themselves via e-mail to transfer them between PCs, using their mailboxes as an ad hoc file locker, and setting up multiple accounts to increase their storage limits. If I use a desktop program to manage my Hotmail data, then Microsoft offers Windows Live Mail and a nifty Outlook Connector, which got me thinking…
With the advent of Windows Live SkyDrive, Microsoft has created an online file storage tool with the potential to move us from primitive file hoarders to enlightened technophiles who really “live” in the cloud. Granted the service is still in its infancy, but Microsoft has been steadily increasing the allotted storage capacity, from 500 MB in the early days to a whopping 25 GB in the most recent update. Paired with a fast and reliable Internet connection, SkyDrive now has the capacity needed to become a viable replacement to the local computer’s hard drive as a repository for documents, photos, music, and videos. What SkyDrive needs now is better integration with your device(s).
SkyDrive’s current UI is a rather slick Website that’s just shy of being a full-blown personal FTP server. You can easily upload files (even drag and drop is supported using a browser add-in); rename, organize files, and set access permissions online; and download them back to any local PC (individually or collectively as a zip file). Not bad, especially considering the price (free).
However, until I can do everything online, I’m still going to have to plug my SkyDrive files into desktop-based programs to use them. To become an effective solution, SkyDrive desperately needs to become more tightly integrated with the desktop OS, so that its folders can function seamlessly with desktop applications. Office Live Workspace already sorta-kinda offers this functionality, but only from within (you guessed it) Microsoft Office programs. Plus, it’s a separate services that’s not currently integrated with SkyDrive.
What I propose is the SkyDrive Connector, which would allow users to create map points between physical folders on the local computer and their SkyDrive folders in the cloud. The connector would be a downloaded application (like the current Outlook Connector) that would be installed on the local computer. Using the connector, users would just work with local files in local folders, and it would take care of the heavy lifting to get everything uploaded neatly to SkyDrive.
My hypothetical SkyDrive Connector
I’m not necessarily talking about the kind of replication that Windows Live Mesh and/or Windows Live Sync affords (if I’m always connected, then I don’t need multiple copies floating around everywhere), but something that could handle the translation of data, so that my “legacy” desktop apps think they’re dealing with local files, while those files are really being streamed to/from SkyDrive behind the scenes. Users wouldn’t necessarily have to upload and download to access files; instead, they would just save and open files to local folders, and the connector would transfer them to SkyDrive.
Of course, I’m just an idea guy. I don’t have the technical know-how to actually build this doodad. Does anyone know if Microsoft (or someone else) already has this concept in the works?
I’m really looking forward to a day when I don’t have to worry about where my data happens to reside, as long as I can rely on it being secure, private, and accessible. I’d gladly trade-in huge hard drives for that kind of availability.