Microsoft doesn't plan to be left behind in the cloud storage wars, and apparently sniffs a Google entry that's slated to arrive soon. That said, the Redmond company has made a few changes to SkyDrive, one of which is cranking up existing users from 7 GB to an optional-yet-meaty 25 GB (seriously, who'd turn that down?) for free. No strings attached.
Starting Monday, Microsoft now offers three additional paid storage plans: 20 GB of additional space for $10 per year, 50 GB of additional space for $25 per year, and 100 GB of additional space for $50 per year. New SkyDrive users will start off with 7 GB of free storage, but won't receive the free 25 GB upgrade as will the existing users.
So how do you connect with SkyDrive outside the Web browser? On Monday Microsoft made available a preview version of SkyDrive for Windows, a local version of its SkyDrive client, compatible with Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 Consumer Preview. This allows users to access files on SkyDrive directly from Windows Explorer, add new files to the virtual locker by dragging them to the SkyDrive folder, organize files and folders just like any other local folder, and more.
There's also an updated version of the Windows Phone app which was released on Sunday, and a new preview of SkyDrive for Mac OS X Lion that's now available to download. On the mobile front, Microsoft has updated the iPhone and iPad versions that adds support for the Retina display and other features. So far it looks as if Android has been left out of the loop, although that could change in the near future given that Microsoft still provides apps on the rival platform.
"As we set upon the path to bring SkyDrive closer to Windows, we had a few goals that drove our plan," Microsoft said in a blog on Monday. "First, we wanted you to be able to 'get up and running' as quickly as possible, with very few steps. Secondly, we wanted to 'be quiet' on the system and make sure that all processing was entirely in the background, with your needs and your apps as the first priority. And third, we really wanted it all to 'just work' as you’d expect it to, staying up-to-date automatically, and humming along without confusing dialogs or pop-ups."
Microsoft's virtual locker now also offers a "fetch" feature. With the SkyDrive software installed on a Windows machine, the user's PC essentially turns into a private cloud to browse files and stream videos from anywhere through the SkyDrive.com website. This is helpful when users are out of town and left certain files on their desktop, or they're stuck in the motel room and want a special video to watch that's stored on the home drive.
"In order to access a remote PC you will have to provide a second factor of authentication beyond your account password," Microsoft said. "You’ll need to enter a code that we send to your mobile phone or alternate email address even if you’re already signed in to your SkyDrive account (if you’re already on a trusted PC, you won’t have to do this every time, and it is easy to do this one-time setup). This means that anyone wanting access to your remote PC would have to have access not only to your account, but also to either an alternate email or your phone (which they would need to physically possess)."
For more information about the updates to SkyDrive, check out Microsoft's blog here. Remember, if you're already a SkyDrive user, your 7 GB capacity can be upgraded to 25 GB for free. New members won't get this upgrade, but will start out with 7 GB of free storage. That's still not bad considering the competition, but what hurts SkyDrive is a lack of Android support.