The newest facelift to SkyDrive is up and operational. It brings some charming new looks and some nice new features. It gets top billing on the menu bar on the Live home page (replacing the former “Office”). The ads are gone and the space is more cleanly utilized. The announcement post, “Introducing SkyDrive for the modern web, built using HTML5” covers the details and the underlying technology.
Here, in one view, some of the new look and features. Like many other sites, SkyDrive can be pinned to the taskbar. Right-clicking the SkyDrive logo provides a jump list to the full file listing (shown here in the background using the detail view), just the documents or just the photos (shown here in thumbnail view). What I cannot show is the neat way the thumbnails of albums, or folders, continuously show slideshows of the images contained in the album. Very pleasant. Great going!
When showing the contents of an album the thumbnails are now (mostly) full representations of the images in their actual aspect ratios.
Uploading files or photos is still just a matter of dragging the thumbnails from a local folder to the Add Photos page on SkyDrive. The size limit is now 100 MB – sufficient even for large panoramas. Surprisingly, on my first test the photo resizing was ignored. As you can see in the illustration below, the size was set to the default 1600 pixel max. Yet a 21 MB panorama (8605 x 3603) was uploaded without so much as a “should I?” in full size.
With this update, SkyDrive has been brought closer to being integrated into the “experience” of Windows. To stay in the cloud computing metaphor, in spite of the nice silver linings there are still many dark clouds on the horizon.
In the previous version, SkyDrive offered a nice self-running slide show feature, images had “surround light” in a color tone appropriate to each image. Two versions back the thumbnails were animated and could be moved from bottom to a side. With the new version Microsoft continues the slide to “simplification”. The background is a monotonous monotone, the thumbnails, although correctly proportioned, highlight the displayed image with just an underline.
The self-running slideshow feature is no more. Here is how Omar Shahine, Group Program Manager, SkyDrive, at Microsoft explained it (in a comment to the announcement post):
… when we moved from the Silverlight slideshow to an HTML based one, we didn’t implement a play button. In doing our research we found that users preferred controlling playback themselves, and the value of hitting play and sitting back to watch wasn’t all that important relative to other features…
When viewing the thumbnails of the albums the screen is filled with beautiful, little running slideshows, but just one click later we no longer have access to that technology – “sitting back to watch wasn’t all that important”. Alas, “other features” is another step toward mediocrity.
In SkyDrive it is one file or photo at a time. For files you open the info panel with the (information) link. Most of the controls are grouped toward the top. The Move link is under Information below Path. For photos the move link is similarly located. If you don’t expand the Information group you wont see the Move link. I took me a while to comprehend that “moving” is obviously an information property.
The Move command then opens a page for selecting the destination folder. Not elegant.
Allow me to call your attention to that pretty SkyDrive right-click menu. It includes “Tasks” to allow you to open a new Word, Excel, or PowerPoint document using Web Apps. Unfortunately, any document so created will be saved in the root (common area) of SkyDrive and will not be able to be moved into another folder. There are no Move or Copy commands for documents in the main SkyDrive area. No way to reorganize these files, unless you download, delete, then upload to a folder. With many documents and a substantial number of folders, finding a particular file thus gets more time-consuming. Not elegant.
Bloggers like to include images, and, as you can see from this article, I am one of them. SkyDrive was my source for images for a number of years. Microsoft moved millions of bloggers from the dearly-departed Spaces to WordPress. So you would think supporting them would be considered good business. But getting the URL of a picture in SkyDrive always has been a chore and now even that has been compromised. (see Sourcing images from the new SkyDrive.)
The URLs of the images in the previous version allowed access to the full view in a clean browser window. Here is what I am talking about: Prior to June 20, 2011 you could get the URL that shows the full image without providing access to any other. Click the left, small image of the hawk to illustrate that feature. The right image hyperlink is the best I can do now. It uses the “embed” code provided in SkyDrive and links to the image as shown in SkyDrive along with the rest of the album (and more). Another elegant feature lost.
Update after initial post: In the blog post publish routine the “embed” code was stripped. The image here is as it appeared in Windows Live Writer but the details have been changed to make it work. Not elegant!
SkyDrive folders can be mapped into Windows Explorer but that does not work as you would expect. (How can I see my SkyDrive photos in Windows Explorer?) When you drag a file into a mapped folder, it seems to work momentarily, then an error message: “The file … is too large for the destination file system.”
This is the error message, regardless of file size, for any file other that an Office file type. Office files work ok. Folders work ok, but not their contents except Office files. Not elegant.
One nice feature retained from the earlier versions is the ability to re-arrange the order of photos in an album to allow for proper presentation order in a slide show. The Arrange page uses Silverlight (as does the upload page). I am frightened by the remark “…when we moved from … Silverlight…” as this might indicate the goal for coming changes. Compare the methods as illustrated here:
On the left is the method when Silverlight is not installed. You are asked to re-number the image order. On the right, with Silverlight, it is just a matter of dragging a thumbnail to the new position, the thumbnails nicely move apart to let the repositioned image in. Will this nice feature also be simplified away?
The mini slide shows of the albums look impressive and no doubt give a hint of how Windows 8 will look and work. The space is nicely utilized and this will work well on small screens like phones and tablets. This is very nice. Yet the changes, new technology of HTLM5 or not, look mostly cosmetic and are limited to appearance and there is no improvement to the SkyDrive functionality.
I tossed a number of bouquets – they are well deserved, but they are outnumbered by brickbats and I have one more: For the past two years of blogging my most frequently read posts have to do with moving folders (and their contents) to SkyDrive. This feature is the most desired and has been totally neglected. Yet there is hope.
Drag a folder with files to the “drop photos here…” box. It is placed, but below it it says “View error”. When that is clicked you get “SkyDrive can’t upload folders…”.
Why do I say there is hope? See this image: The message is “New! You can now upload folders”. It is not found in SkyDrive but in Google Docs. If Microsoft’s customers can’t get satisfaction, maybe the competitive incentive will get the job accomplished.
© 2011 Ludwig Keck