While Microsoft’s cloud-based business products focus on Office 365 and SharePoint, the integration of SkyDrive with Office 2013 and Windows 8 can be a real boon for smaller companies. 7GB is available free with a Microsoft account, and this can easily be upgraded by 20, 50 or 100GB at a surprisingly low annual price.

SkyDrive now mirrors the new interface of Windows 8, giving it a consistent look across PCs, tablets and phones. However, it still works perfectly well on Windows 7 and Windows Vista. Windows 8 and Windows RT users can use the built-in SkyDrive app to view, upload and share files, documents and photos, while a SkyDrive desktop app for Windows 8, Windows 7 and Windows Vista syncs your local SkyDrive folder with your SkyDrive in the cloud It’s slightly odd that the standard SkyDrive app doesn’t sync between the two itself, but at least it now has proper Live tiles, so that you can see recent updates and changes from a quick glance at the Windows 8 Start screen.

Microsoft’s SkyDrive Online Backup Review (1)

“SkyDrive now mirrors the new interface of Windows 8, giving it a consistent look across PCs, tablets and phones”

Even used in isolation, SkyDrive is an impressive service. Office files stored on SkyDrive can be viewed and even edited from within the browser, with the appropriate Office Web Apps loading to let you make simple edits. You can save files straight back out to SkyDrive, and there’s no need to mess around with importing and exporting files as you have to do with Google Drive. The look and feel of the Web Apps is very similar to their Office 2013 equivalents, though many of the more advanced features have been removed. Some users will find that they don’t even need the desktop Office applications, while having the Office Web Apps accessible on most systems and most browsers is a real boon to anyone working across multiple devices and/or operating systems.

Features for sharing media are just as exemplary, with built-in photo, video and audio playback facilities. Images can be viewed as slideshows, and you can get details like EXIF data and tags on photos that other cloud storage services don’t offer. Versioning is supported, and the Version History feature means you can browse through earlier versions if you need to return a file to an earlier form. Files and folders can be shared with other users by right-clicking on them, selecting Share and emailing a link. Alternatively, you can post the link to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or generate code to embed the file on a web page. To make things even easier, SkyDrive links now enable anyone with a compatible browser to edit your Skydrive hosted document with or without a SkyDrive account, though it’s still possible – and perhaps more sensible – to send an email invitation that requires them to sign in.

The real benefit of using SkyDrive is that it’s now so heavily tied into Office 2013. Office 2013 now makes a user’s SkyDrive account the default place for saving new documents. In Office 2010, saving to SkyDrive was always a bit of a faff, but in Office 2013 it’s actually easier than saving a file to local storage. Provided you’re happy with SkyDrive’s security, there’s no reason not to do it, keeping your Office documents synced across multiple PCs and backed up in the cloud.

SkyDrive uses SSL to encrypt files during transport, but files are unencrypted once at rest on Microsoft’s servers. Given that Microsoft’s servers are themselves heavily secured this might not be a concern, but it leaves SkyDrive behind Box.net in this respect. SkyDrive was a little slow to upload files, taking over two hours with our test folders, but download speeds were more acceptable, at 39 minutes, while changed files synced from PC to PC in less than eighty seconds.

Microsoft’s SkyDrive Online Backup Review (2)

“Office 2013 now makes a user’s SkyDrive account the default place for saving new documents”

For those using Windows 8 and Office 2013,using SkyDrive just makes sense. The 7GB of storage supplied will be adequate for many small businesses, and if it isn’t then the extra 20GB or 50GB won’t break the bank. For those using Windows 7 and/or Office 2010 it’s still a good choice, with an excellent feature set, a simple interface and affordable pricing.  Unless you need the additional management features of Box.net or have closer ties with Google Apps, SkyDrive is the pick of the cloud storage crop for small business users.

Verdict: If superb integration with Office 2013 and Windows 8 wasn’t enough, SkyDrive offers exceptional value for money

Ratings (out of 5)
Features: 5
Ease of Use: 4
Value for Money: 5
Overall: 5

Price: 7GB Free, 27GB £6 per year per user, 57GB £16 per year per user, 107GB £32 per year per user
Skydrive Homepagehttp://skydrive.live.com