SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro? Cut through the confusion

Though they have similar names, the two online storage services from Microsoft serve different use cases

Am I the only one confused by SkyDrive? I'm not just referring to the fact that with my Windows 8.1 PC, every document I try to save is pushed to SkyDrive -- I'm referring to the confusion between SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro, whose poorly considered names fall into the same "let's obscure the differences" trap as, say, Windows 8 and Windows RT.

SkyDrive is a free public cloud service for storing and sharing documents that is comparable to Dropbox and Box. You get free SkyDrive space with a Microsoft account or Hotmail account. Ultimately this is for personal document sharing with friends and colleagues, though some people use it for business purposes. To keep the two versions of SkyDrive clear, let's call this edition "SkyDrive Personal" for now.

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By contrast, SkyDrive Pro is a storage service designed to facilitate business document sharing, either as a part of Office 365 (through the SharePoint Online service) or via on-premises SharePoint 2013. The SkyDrive Pro name is new, but SkyDrive Pro itself is not: It was originally released after the acquistion of Groove Networks (Ray Ozzie's company at the time) as Groove 2007, then later released as SharePoint Workspace. Neither Groove 2007 nor SharePoint 2007 got much traction, perhaps because it wasn't easy for users to work with them.

For SkyDrive Pro to work, it has to be installed on your user's PCs (which an Office 2013 installation does for you, though you can also download a stand-alone SkyDrive Pro installer). Office 365 users get 25GB of space on Microsoft's cloud; it's up to your server admins to determine how much space (stored on your company's own servers) each users gets for SkyDrive Pro in an on-premises SharePoint 2013 deployment.

Once installed, the user can go to your SharePoint document sites from SharePoint 2013 or Office 365's SharePoint Online and sync the business's SharePoint document library with the user's SkyDrive Pro client. SkyDrive Pro can also be used to allow a business's users to share documents with each other via that SharePoint repository.

Depending on your SharePoint configuration and your information-access policies, users may also be able to share documents with external business contacts. However, such external sharing in SkyDrive Pro is not as easy as in SkyDrive Personal, Dropbox, or Box, so don't be surprised if users continue to use those services as well for their outside collaboration needs.

Here's a key to understanding SkyDrive Pro: It's fundamentally about accessing SharePoint documents, not about providing an independent online storage locker like Dropbox, SkyDrive Personal, or Box. SkyDrive Personal doesn't have enterprise collaboration features, but SkyDrive Pro does, because it is connected to SharePoint. Thus, SkyDrive Pro supports documentation features such as versioning, content approval, workflows, and check-in/check-out.

It's also important to understand that SkyDrive Pro syncs files to the user's PC, just as other cloud storage services do; you should think about securing those PCs, such as through BitLocker encryption.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion between SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro.

This story, "SkyDrive or SkyDrive Pro? Cut through the confusion," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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