OneDrive Increases Free Storage and Office 365 Gets 1TB Free

On June 23, Microsoft announced several updates related to its OneDrive consumer-oriented online storage service including bumping up the free storage tier, reducing costs for purchasing storage dramatically, and adding 1TB to Office 365’s non-business plans.

OneDrive 1TB with Office
OneDrive 1TB with Office

Free Storage

While OneDrive (then called SkyDrive) offered 25GB free long time ago, Microsoft changed the free tierto be a then reasonable 7GB around the time of Windows 8 launch. The reasoning then was 7GB was higher than the competition at the time. Of course, as cost of storage has gone down, and as cloud services become more essential for ecosystems, Google and even Apple, have announced very inexpensive plans for their respective online storage services. Now, Microsoft matches some of the recent competitive updates by making the free tier to be 15GB.

Office 365 Personal, Home and University plans join the 1TB party

Microsoft had already announced that Office 365’s business editions would be getting 1TB of included storage (although that would be under OneDrive for Business, which is not the same product as OneDrive). With this announcement, Office 365’s non-business editions, which is Personal, Home and University, also get 1TB of included storage.

This makes Office 365 a pretty fantastic deal if you have the need for desktop Office, or if you want to be able to edit Office documents on the iPad. Not only does Office 365 now come with 1TB of storage, it always included 60 minutes of free Skype worldwide calling and of course desktop version of the Office suite, as well as edit rights for iPad version of the Office apps. If you have more than one person who needs Office, then Office 365 Home is a killer deal @ $99 per year for 5 users.

Office 365 Consumer Plans
Office 365 Consumer Plans

Reduced prices for additional storage options

Of course, as storage costs have gone down, each of the online storage providers have kept cutting their prices. OneDrive will no longer have the 50GB option since the $100GB option is now at $1.99 per month, down from $7.49 per month. An additional 200GB will be $3.99 per month, down from $11.49 per month.

These are great updates to an already useful storage service. As a reminder, OneDrive has a presence on all platforms, making it a truly universal online storage service: Windows 7, Windows 8.x, Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac OS. The price changes were not completely unexpected because it is much easier for a larger company with scale, to keep lowering costs to meet the competition’s prices. I wonder what this means to the likes of Dropbox and Box, especially the former, since it has long been the darling of consumers for being so easy to use, sync and share. With OneDrive (and Google Drive and soon, iCloud) being so front-and-center in those various ecosystems, it will be interesting to see how many consumers will decide to switch away from the smaller companies. We shall see.

Edit: An earlier version of this article stated that OneDrive is perhaps the only service with apps across all platforms. Dropbox and Box also have apps across all platforms. Author meant to say, only one among the big ecosystem providers, but the sentence has been modified to refer to OneDrive by itself.

(Images courtesy OneDrive blog and Office Blogs)

OneDrive for Business Now Offers 1TB per User

OneDrive For Business
OneDrive For Business

On April 28, Microsoft announced some updates to OneDrive for Business, the service formerly known as SkyDrive Pro. According to the blog post on Office Blogs:

 

First, we will be increasing OneDrive for Business storage from 25GB to 1TB per user.

Second, all Office 365 ProPlus customers will get 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage per user as part of their Office 365 ProPlus subscription.

Third, we’ll help organizations migrate data from their existing solutions to OneDrive for Business

The first update is huge. Not too long ago, SkyDrive Pro was providing only 7GB per user. When Microsoft announced the standalone OneDrive for Business offering, they also bumped up the default storage to 25GB per user. Now perhaps based on pressure from competitors like Google, they have made the default to 1TB. As always when there is competition, we as customers ultimately win.

Office 365 ProPlus is a service that provides always-up-to-date Office software to customers on a subscription basis. Until today’s announcement, it was purely an Office subscription. Now, it also comes with a truckload of storage space and more importantly, a sync solution that ensures that files are always in sync across devices.

The third item was not detailed but I suspect Microsoft will have some utilities to help migrate data from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and others to OneDrive for Business. We shall see.

The blog post goes on to describe the benefits OneDrive for Business offers in addition to pure storage amount and sync:

Native integration with Office documents: Enables people to discover content and collaborate with others in real time with efficient synchronization of changes and real-time co-authoring using Office Online.

Connected to what you need, when you need it: As cloud services like Office 365 get smarter and more personalized with Office Graph, OneDrive for Business becomes part of a connected productivity solution where content is discoverable, sharable and personalized for individual users, helping to increase personal and organizational responsiveness.

A trusted service: OneDrive for Business provides enterprise content management, compliance and admin controls, financially backed by the industry-leading Office 365 Service Level Agreement. We’ve made investments in manageability, security, auditing and information protection including rights management, data loss prevention, auditing, eDiscovery, legal holds, etc. and more that can work for OneDrive for business but also across SharePoint and Exchange.

Deep investment in certifications and infrastructure: We’ve invested heavily already in areas that are important for doing business in major vertical industries and geographies, such as FISMA, the EU Model Clauses, CJIS and more, many of which are detailed on our Trust Center.  Microsoft has industry-leading, cloud reliability and security and has made a massive investment in physical datacenters around the world, enabling us to deliver high availability and robust disaster recovery capabilities.

Scale through partners: Our 400,000 partners around the world can help customers get up and running quickly with OneDrive for Business as a standalone solution or with Office 365.

As you can see, OneDrive for Business is not a “dumb storage” service but it is in fact the center of a collaborative solution that is protected by certifications and service level agreements. Along with the huge partner network, which enables building innovative solutions on top of the storage layer, OneDrive for Business is now a serious contender for businesses of any size to move their data into the cloud.

Skydrive Updates: Timeline View, Faster Uploads, Thumbnails

On May 13, Omar Shahine announced a collection of updates to SkyDrive on the Inside SkyDrive blog.

The most visible update is of course a new view of your SkyDrive content — Timeline View for photos. With this view, which was going to be rolled out over 48 hours, you can see all your photos across all folders and sub-folders in a timeline view. This is very handy because you may have created many photo albums and if you are looking for a certain picture from a certain time in the past, now it is really easy to click through to find the said picture.

SkyDrive Timeline View
SkyDrive Timeline View

The timeline view allows you to see a general timeline listing and then, by clicking on a month name you can quickly browse through the various months where there are pics in your SkyDrive collection. Clicking on a month name will show all the photos with a timestamp of that month.

SkyDrive Timeline View - Month
SkyDrive Timeline View – Month

 

In addition, Microsoft also announced that they have improved the performance of the SkyDrive desktop application. They claim, per their internal tests, that the upload times are now 2-3x faster than before.

Another minor update was made to the thumbnail layout in SkyDrive, and also, new support now for PowerPoint and Word files.

SkyDrive Thumbnail Layout
SkyDrive Thumbnail Layout

 

Finally, related to SkyDrive, earlier they announced that from Windows Phones, the auto-uploading of full-resolution pictures and videos is now going to be possible in all markets and not just the US. It is quite astounding actually, that the auto-upload was not yet in place for most of the world. Anyway, it is better late than never.

It is very clear that the Outlook.com/SkyDrive teams are on a rapid release schedule of some sort because we have seen consistent updates from them over the past several months. Now that the transition from hotmail to Outlook.com is complete, I am hoping we will see some key missing features (music support on SkyDrive, video support in the timeline view, etc.) also implemented in short time.

What do you think of the SkyDrive updates?

 

Outlook.com Calendar Finally Gets a Coat of Metro

If you have been using Hotmail/Outlook.com for email, you would have noticed that the email, contacts and SkyDrive interfaces are all uniform, designed along the Metro principles of letting the content stand out and moving all unnecessary chrome and controls out of the way. One service which was still bearing the old Hotmail/Live look was the Calendar.

The Calendar was left in the old format for some strange reason even after Outlook.com left preview and became “production” recently. One of the early comments made by Microsoft about Calendar was that they observed that most people use the Calendar on mobile devices or via desktop applications and not the website, and hence they prioritized the Calendar update lower.

However, for those who got used to using the Outlook.com web interface (partly because it is so beautiful and functional), started feeling the eyesore that was Calendar. Until April 2.

Over on Office Blogs, David Dennis announced the new Outlook.com Calendar was finally available at http://calendar.live.com. Some of the salient features of the new Calendar are:

  • The fresh/modern/Metro design. Finally in line with the email, contacts and storage services.
  • Easier navigation and usage. The web app works much like a desktop application with drag across time periods to create an event, incorporating tasks within the same page as calendar, clicking to add/edit events, etc.
  • If you connect your Microsoft account to Skype, LinkedIn and Facebook, you will automatically see birthdays (and other events) from those services in your calendar.
  • Granular (but easy to use) privacy controls for sharing calendars and parts of calendars.
  • Shared calendars with change notifications, enabling scenarios where parents share calendars and get notified when one or the other changes/adds events.
Outlook.com Metro Calendar
Outlook.com Metro Calendar

Overall, this is a much-needed and highly delayed change which finally makes the “Windows Services” consisting of Outlook.com email, Outlook.com Calendar, People and SkyDrive appear like a suite of services made by the same company.

There are still some features available in other services like Google Calendar that are missing from Outlook.com Calendar, but here’s hoping that with this “big” update out of the way, the Calendar team will get more resources to focus on adding functionality to the Calendar, and enhancing how it interacts with the rest of the products in the Microsoft portfolio like Bing.

Do you use Hotmail Calendar? Have you been upgraded to the new version? What are your thoughts?

 

Image courtesy Office Blogs.

Skydrive App Update on iOS Finally Live

On April 3, Mike Torres announced on Windows Blogs that the SkyDrive app for iOS was updated to v3.0 and was available in the iTunes store.

Some of the changes and additions in this update are:

  • Support for iPhone 5 and iPad Mini
  • Updated app icons and user experience
  • Works better with your photos:
    • Download full resolution photos to your iPhone or iPad
    • Control the size of photos you upload and download
    • Photo metadata is retained when you upload to SkyDrive
  • Opening and saving files to SkyDrive works better with other apps on your iOS devices
  • Many other small changes, bug fixes and performance improvements
SkyDrive on iPhone 5
SkyDrive on iPhone 5

Given that the last update to the app was about a year ago, this news is very welcome for those who use SkyDrive.

What was not mentioned in the change log was that the option to buy additional storage on SkyDrive has been removed. This is because as per Apple’s App Store policies, if any app provides such functionality or even a link to their own site, the company has to pay 30% fee to Apple.

In fact, it is widely believed that the app was held back from being released because the negotiations between Microsoft and Apple were not going anywhere. Microsoft was trying to convince Apple that this is a special case and they should not be charged the 30% fee for the functionality. Clearly, Apple did not budge and Microsoft had to remove the link.

However, the silver lining here is now that Microsoft has published the SkyDrive app, we may not be too far away from Office on iOS making its appearance. The generally believed theory among those who watch Microsoft is that Office on iOS (specifically, iPad) is going to be free apps with read-only functionality unless a user has a Office 365 subscription. If they sign in with their Microsoft account tied to the subscription, they will be able to edit the Office files on iPhone and iPad. Given how important the “real” Office is for consumers and enterprises alike, it is natural that Microsoft would not want to pay 30% of the entire Office 365 subscription fee to Apple. Here’s hoping there was a good deal worked out between Cupertino and Redmond so end users like us can finally see Word, Excel, PowerPoint (and wishfully thinking, Outlook) on the iPad.

Do you use SkyDrive? Do you use it on iPhone/iPad? What do you think of the latest update? Let me know!

 

Image courtesy Microsoft from the Windows Blogs

Outlook.com is out of Preview, Said to Have 60 Million Users

In a blog post (and in interviews), Microsoft announced on February 18th that their new webmail service Outlook.com is coming out of preview. Microsoft claims Outlook.com has 60 million users, which makes it the fastest growing service.

In an interview with The Verge, Dharmesh Mehta, Senior Director of Outlook.com said that about a third of Outlook.com users came from GMail. While this number does not include true switchers, it does show that the service did pique the interest of many GMail users. The real success of the service will be determined by how it is able to retain those users who came from GMail, as well as of course attracting users from other services.

Another point made by Mehta was that all the time while Outlook.com was in preview, they were focused on scaling and tuning the performance so that they can handle the loads which would inevitably come when they start migrating existing Hotmail users over to the new service. This is going to start from the 19th and after sending emails and alerting the users, at some point the migration will happen automatically. Microsoft expects this process to complete by the end of summer.

Now that they are out of preview, Mehta said that they will focus on enhancing the features of the service. I look forward to some of the missing pieces in the service like:

  • Calendar: The beautiful interface (inspired by Metro design principles, and made for touch-friendly devices) extends from email, to contacts (People) to SkyDrive. The one service which has not seen the new coat of paint is Calendar and boy does it stick out like a sore thumb. The calendar needs to be updated quickly.
  • 2-factor authentication: When Outlook.com launched in preview mode, the team did some interviews and even a Reddit Ask Me Anything. When asked about 2-factor authentication like GMail and many other services use, the Outlook team said they don’t have it because most normal users don’t use 2-factor authentication because it makes sign in too complex. Instead, they claimed, they have a one-time password that gets sent via SMS, to use when accessing the service at an unknown PC. I don’t think that is a great substitute for 2-factor authentication. If Microsoft feels it is too complex, they should have an equivalent solution so that hackers cannot easily hack into email accounts.
  • Logged in activity: Continuing with the security trend, GMail also offers a nice snippet of IP addresses which are logged in to the GMail account at any given time, with the feature to remotely log any of those connections out. There is no such feature in Outlook.com. Another very nice feature available in GMail is a notification upon login that there was activity from places like China on the GMail account, potentially signalling an impending hacking attack. These days, it is better to have such measures in place than regret a hacking later, so it would be very nice if Outlook.com can adopt some of these security features in the service.
  • Spam filtering: While Outlook.com’s spam filter is great, I am not a big fan of blocking senders to mark an email as spam. This is especially true when there is a limit on how many senders can be in the blocked sender list. Instead, a message should be marked as spam and the anti-spam engine can then make an intelligent guess about the sender *and* the content of the message for future use. Similarly, moving a message to the Junk folder should trigger the same action as marking a message as Junk does, and that is not happening today.
  • Mobile apps – “Send email as”: What I love about Outlook.com among many other things, is the ability to collect emails from multiple accounts and use it as the only email service. On the web, I am able to decide which of the email addresses I want to use to send messages from, but that is not true with mobile apps. Even on Windows Phone, the email app is unable to send a message from a sender which is different from my Outlook.com/Hotmail account. Hence, when I want to send a message from my GMail address via my phone, I am unable to. I know part of this problem lies with the Windows Phone team, but since Outlook.com and Windows Phone are both from the same “team”, I as a user of both those services should expect things to just work. They don’t.

Let’s see how quickly these (and other) features get included in the service. I am looking forward to the massive marketing campaign for the service that is about the start soon. Unlike the negative Scroogled campaign, this one seems to target all the things that are great about Outlook.com, which is always a nice way to get your message out. See some of the upcoming ads below.

This one talks about Sweep feature:

This one is “Get Going”:

Skydrive Pictures Now Showing Inline on Twitter

Looks like there is some close work Microsoft is doing with Twitter. In addition to announcing a Windows Phone 8-specific Twitter application coming with Windows Phone 8, looks like the behind-the-scenes work is complete for showing SkyDrive pictures inline on Twitter.

If you use a Windows Phone and share pictures natively (select a picture > share > Twitter), it uploads the picture to SkyDrive and then publishes the SkyDrive link to Twitter along with the tweet message. Below is an example:

Tweet with SkyDrive picture link
Tweet with SkyDrive picture link

Until now, that “View Photo” link was not visible and as a result, expanding the tweet would not show the photo. In order to see the photo you’d have to click on the link which would take you to SkyDrive’s website and open it there. Compared to inline, that was a bad experience.

Now, you can see the picture inline by just clicking on “View Photo” as I did here:

SkyDrive picture inline on Twitter
SkyDrive picture inline on Twitter

It doesn’t look like SkyDrive pictures are integrated into Twitter’s “Recent Images” section on the profile page yet. Hopefully the Image Gallery update will roll out soon as well.

Regardless, it is a good thing that Twitter (with or without Microsoft) has worked out the technical stuff to make SkyDrive pictures show up inline. After all, we know that SkyDrive now has 200 million users and stores 11 billion photos so it is not a small operation. With Windows 8 and Windows RT (along with, of course, Windows Phone 8) relying heavily on SkyDrive as the personal cloud of choice, the usage will only go up.

A final note, given that Twitter’s iOS and Android apps behave much like the website, I suppose these pictures from SkyDrive will also show inline in those apps, although I have not been able to confirm that.

Tip: Skip Skydrive Initial Sync when Installing It on a New PC

Did you buy a new PC recently? Perhaps you are hopping on the Windows 8 bandwagon and have got yourself a new touchscreen PC? Do you use SkyDrive, and more specifically the SkyDrive (desktop) application? Do you have a PC with sync-ed SkyDrive application and a USB drive? Read on for a tip that may save you time and money.

Ed: I explain the following for a Windows PC, but it should be applicable for Macs as well.

If you use the SkyDrive service and have a lot of data stored there, you will notice it will take a lot of time to complete the initial sync when you install it on a new PC. Not just that, if you have 10-15GB of data stored there like I do, it will also chew up your data quota very quickly which would be a problem on networks with data caps.

I was recently in that position and I did the following to bypass the initial sync. Hope this helps.

Install the SkyDrive desktop app on the new PC: As usual, just go to SkyDrive.com and get the desktop app and installed it. Make a note of the designated SkyDrive folder. This is usually C:\Users\<username>\SkyDrive.

SkyDrive folder
SkyDrive folder

 

As soon as the installation completes, go to the system tray and exit the SkyDrive app by right-clicking and clicking Exit.

Exit SkyDrive application
Exit SkyDrive application

 

Then, on the other PC/Mac with sync-ed SkyDrive app, insert the USB drive and copy the contents of the entire folder except the “.lock” file to the USB drive.

After the copy task completes, attach the USB drive to the new PC and copy the entire contents from the USB drive to the newly installed SkyDrive folder location.

Once that copy task is done, you can restart SkyDrive app on the new PC by going to Start and entering “SkyDrive”. The application will take a few seconds to sync up and will notify you that it is up to date.

That’s it. Time as well as precious bandwidth saved.

 

Devices, Services and the Modern Microsoft

In a letter addressed to Microsoft’s shareholders, customers, partners and employees, CEO Steve Ballmer laid out the direction in which Microsoft was about to embark upon, calling it a fundamental shift for the company. The gist of the change is that instead of being a software company, Microsoft was focused on becoming a devices and services company. This is a big shift in strategy and could very well be the defining moment for Microsoft as well as Ballmer.

Services

A lot of pundits have focused too much on the devices part of the strategy, and that is justified, given that traditionally Microsoft has not built hardware except the Xbox and some keyboards, mice and web cameras. The Surface tablet was introduced as “the first in a series of devices” that Microsoft intends to make. That statement, along with the phrase “devices of various form factors” in the letter would imply that Microsoft may in fact make other devices like phones, or smaller tablets in e-reader form factor.

However, I want to focus on the services part of the strategy. Microsoft is essentially saying that all the software it is making, is now going to be delivered as a service. We already see many of the server products being delivered as a service via Office 365, Azure, etc. This is a tremendous achievement because it is almost completely opposite of how Microsoft used to make money – boxed software or licensed software delivered as a product. Now, they have been able to pitch various types of models for the delivery as a service, like pure service-based delivery as Office 365, pure on-premise delivery as in Exchange Server (or any of the other servers) and the hybrid model where some part of the infrastructure stays on-premise and some gets delivered as a service.

It is not just the “business” side of things that have become the focus of services. On the consumer side Microsoft completely revamped their much-underutilized SkyDrive cloud storage service. Not only did they make it easier to use, but they made native apps available on all mobile platforms. See the devices angle that others have not focused much on? You can enjoy the benefits of their service across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Similarly, they launched a brand new, extremely good-looking mail service Outlook.com, which takes the negativity associated with Hotmail brand away from Microsoft. The web app works nicely on all modern browsers, including mobile browsers on iPad and Android tablets. They also made Outlook.com work with Exchange Active Sync (EAS) so all modern smartphones can connect to it with 2-way push on email, contacts and calendars. Another huge service that is coming soon is the Xbox Music and Xbox Video, combined with their cross-platform app Xbox SmartGlass.

The other services piece for Microsoft is Windows Azure, both as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). This area of focus is not brand new, but the pace at which the teams at Microsoft are innovating and competing (on price) shows that they are really serious about these services as well. They are investing a lot of time and money in improving the feature-set and filling the holes that the modern developers (read: not only Windows developers) have reported as crucial for them to adopt Windows as a development platform. Adding support to open source software and frameworks to Azure is a good example of how Microsoft is saying they are a service provider which does not have any favorites when it comes to tools and technologies. The market sure seems to like it because Azure has gained not just a lot of new customers (as Microsoft claims), but they have started reversing the negativity associated with Microsoft when it comes to the open source community.

Massive Change

As you can see, there is a lot of change Microsoft has stepped into, and these things are not going to start showing results immediately. When you are moving an oil tanker like Microsoft, turning it is not quick, nor easy. However, the speed at which Microsoft has pulled off this change, is amazing. They have realized that Windows is not going to have the same clout as it used to have in the 90s. They cannot force themselves onto customers, partners or consumers. Everyone has choices now, and more importantly, as tablet and smartphone sales have proven, people prefer smaller, simpler, mobile devices over larger, more powerful, but more complex devices like laptops. Microsoft knew they had to quickly retool themselves, or face irrelevance.

“PC” Market Or “Computing Devices” Market?

The PC market is now morphing into a more general category of “computing devices” market. Some prefer laptops, some prefer desktops, many prefer tablets, and some are even ok with just their smartphones. In this new world, Windows (which I consider to be 8, RT and Phone combined) would probably end up at no more than 30-40% while iOS and Android take similar shares. With focus on services that work across devices of all form factors, and more importantly, across all OSes, Microsoft is positioned well to take advantage of the new wave of computing.

Devices

Finally, as for the devices part of the strategy, it is important to note that while Microsoft may make their own devices in addition to the Surface tablets, they are definitely not going to become a hardware company. Making hardware at scale is very hard, especially in today’s world of supply chains spanning many companies and geographies, and hardware design needing specialized materials to get the most efficient devices made. I firmly believe Microsoft said devices in the letter to denote the importance of being present on all devices, some of which will showcase their own OS, while some may be running other OSes.

It is a bold strategy. One may argue this is probably the only thing Microsoft could have done to keep their enterprise customers happy while moving forward into the new computing era along with the consumers who have started embracing competing platforms in large numbers. By defining themselves as a company that provides services across all types of devices, Microsoft is ensuring they are built to avoid the irrelevance they would be relegated to if they stayed stuck to the old process of providing incremental updates to all their products.

Looking forward to seeing what happens this holiday season, and more importantly, how Microsoft reinvents itself as it starts providing updates to its entire line of services in the next year.

Microsoft SkyDrive App For Android Launched

I’ve been using Microsoft’s Skydrive service from the last 5 years, when there was no Dropbox or Google Drive for saving my important documents, college projects and vacation pictures on the cloud. Earlier, SkyDrive used to offer 25 GB of online storage before cutting it down to 7 GB for new users. I have already installed the Dropbox, Google Drive and Box apps on my Android smartphone, which offers 2 GB, 5 GB and 50 GB of online storage respectively. However, I was eagerly waiting for the official SkyDrive app, since the third-party apps does not work as advertised.

The official SkyDrive app is already available for Windows Phone and iOS users, which allows them to access SkyDrive content and manage files on the go. Apart from changing the SkyDrive logo and redesigning the website with Modern UI, Microsoft has already teased the official SkyDrive app for Android by showing off a couple of screenshots.

Today, Microsoft finally launched the much-awaited SkyDrive app for Android devices. SkyDrive for Android allows you to upload multiple photos and videos directly from your smartphone. You can even open SkyDrive files through other Android apps installed on your device. In terms of features, this app is almost similar to the Windows Phone and iOS version of the SkyDrive apps. Check out the complete features after the break.

Features:

  • Access all of your SkyDrive content including files shared with you.
  • View recently used documents.
  • Choose multiple photos or videos to upload from your phone.
  • Share your files and photos – send a link in email or in another app.
  • Open your SkyDrive files in other Android apps.
  • Manage your files – delete, or create new folders.

SkyDrive app is currently available for devices running on the Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or the newer version of the OS. However, this app is designed to work best with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) OS. To download the SkyDrive app for your Android smartphone, head over to this page at Google Play Store. We will be posting the complete review of this app in the coming days. Stay tuned!