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How to Sync Files & Fetch Unsynced Files with SkyDrive

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The new SkyDrive is a compelling product from Microsoft. With an ample 7 GB of free storage, a slick interface, and the ability to download unsynced files from any connected computer, SkyDrive gives Dropbox a run for its money.

In the past, SkyDrive has been hindered by a more complex set up process to sync files with Windows Live Mesh, but SkyDrive now has a single folder that syncs itself between your computers.

Unfortunately, the new SkyDrive comes with a reduction in available storage space. While SkyDrive was once hailed as a leader for offering 25 GB of free space, it now only offers 7 GB for free – still ahead of other competitors, but by nowhere near as much.

Getting Started

Microsoft’s new SkyDrive works on Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista – sorry, Windows XP users, but Microsoft wants you to upgrade. It also runs on Mac OS X, Windows Phone, and iOS – but not Android, for some reason.

While Windows 8 contains integrated SkyDrive support in Metro, users will need to install the app to get access to SkyDrive in Windows Explorer on the desktop.

To get started, download the SkyDrive for Windows app from Microsoft’s website. Once you launch the installer, it installs the app with no additional user input required.

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After you’ve installed SkyDrive, you’ll be prompted to log in with your “Windows Live ID” – this is the same as your “Microsoft account” if you’ve used Windows 8, or your Hotmail account if you’re a Hotmail user. Microsoft’s brand consolidation is clearly still in progress.

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SkyDrive now forgoes the folder selection process involved with Windows Live Mesh. You’ll just have a single SkyDrive folder, which is located at C:\Users\NAME\SkyDrive by default.

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You can enable SkyDrive’s “fetch” feature to fetch files on your PC from your other connected devices. If you forget to place an important file in your SkyDrive folder, you can grab it from elsewhere on your PC’s file system if your PC is on – don’t worry, this feature requires additional authentication.

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Like DropBox, SkyDrive runs the system tray and alerts you with notification pop-ups.

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You can change SkyDrive’s settings, open its folder, purchase additional storage, or access the SkyDrive website from the system tray icon.

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Syncing Files

Place files in the SkyDrive folder to sync them between your computers. Any files placed in this folder will be automatically uploaded to your SkyDrive storage online and automatically downloaded by your other computers. Delete a file and it will be removed from your other computers and SkyDrive storage – simple.

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The badges on the files indicate SkyDrive’s progress in synchronizing them. The green check mark indicates the file has been successfully downloaded, while the icon with blue arrows indicates the SkyDrive is syncing the file. The SkyDrive app must be open in your system tray for any syncing to occur — if you place files here while SkyDrive is closed, SkyDrive will start syncing the next time you launch it.

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SkyDrive.com

You can also access your files from SkyDrive.com, if you’re not using a connected device. From the web interface, you can download, delete, move, copy, or share files and view your connected computers.

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Fetching Unsynced Files

To fetch an unsynced file from a connected computer, click the computer’s name at the left side of the SkyDrive web page.

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You’ll be prompted to enter a security code, which will help prevent unauthorized access to your files.

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The code can be sent to a connected email account or a mobile phone via SMS message.

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Once you’ve provided the code, you can browse your computer’s file system and download any file.

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If this feature rubs you the wrong way, don’t worry – if you didn’t disable it during installation, you can disable it from SkyDrive’s Settings window. Right-click the SkyDrive system Tray icon and select Settings to access it.


SkyDrive now has a good helping of free storage space, a slick interface, and a compelling, unique feature – it’s not just a “me too” product from Microsoft. Competition in the cloud storage space is certainly heating up, so this is good news – whether you want to use SkyDrive or not.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/26/12

Comments (29)

  1. glennym

    Great review. I am curious about the status icon for syncing and the tick to says it’s done as I don’t have those icons on my installation. Win7.

  2. Ahmad

    It is not just 7GB of storage. I have 25GB on my both accounts. You will need to go to “Manage Storage” and from there upgrade to 25GB for free!

  3. Johan

    @Ahmad: You can only upgrade to 25 Gb for free if you allready had a skydrive account. Every new account will be limited to 7 Gb.

  4. Paul

    A few additional notes that I didn’t see covered above (or missed): Skydrive is only supported on OS X 10.7.x (Lion). Also, shared folders work differently than in Dropbox. If someone shares a folder with you, it does not count against your storage quota. However, shared folders do not sync with the desktop app to your local machine (at least I haven’t figured out how to do so). You will have to log into your account on Skydrive.com to access shared folders/files.

  5. tony

    Please correct me if I’m just wrong in this, but your opener makes a reference that seems to only be giving consideration to syncing files TO Skydrive, as opposed to syncing them with (using) Skydrive. To be clear, while getting files from synced from one machine to Skydrive is a simpler process, syncing files from one machine to another is no less cumbersome UNLESS you also want those files stored in your cloud storage as well.

    I’d love to eliminate the headache that Skydrive causes me, trying to correctly sync no default User folders on two machines, but since one of those folders contains the crap that some game makers decided needs to be in the User/Documents folder it starts to eat up space quickly if I let it sync to Skydrive.

    I’ll just have to play with it more later today and figure out the best route.

  6. Andrew

    Works well for me. As I originally had SkyDrive I got 25GB storage paid £16 pounds for another 50GB. So got 75GB for a grand total of 16 quid! Beats Dropbox and Google Drive on price for me

  7. Ray

    Not being able to sync shared files/folders is very disappointing (as I share a lot of files with my wife and daughter). Seems to be typical of Microsoft – very good at one part, but lacking in another part. Very frustrating. Of course this is a preview so it may be addressed…one of these days…maybe.

  8. DaFoo

    Ray,
    Use the excellent “Live Mesh”, also by Microsoft.

  9. Lincs

    With another great cloud drive product, the range seems to be growing fast. Can anyone point me in the direction of a review of the different options, with commentary on their respective pros and cons? Cheers.

  10. tony

    @Lincs

    I stumbled across a few yesterday. Without searching and based on my daily routine, it must have been here, Lifehacker, Instantfundas, AddictiveTips, or Gina Tripani. A quick peek did find this one at AddictiveTips, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s definitely not the one I found yesterday.

    http://www.addictivetips.com/internet-tips/free-cloud-storage-comparison-skydrive-google-drive-dropbox-more/

  11. Luinox86

    I have been a DropBox user for a year or so, but now with the recent security issues of dropbox I am really looking for an alternative. There are some comparison charts in the internet, but it would be really great if HTG could provide one, one HTG style that I can rely on and choose between the last two: SugarSync Versus SkyDrive.

  12. Tilak

    Good to know about the How to Sync Files & Fetch Unsynced Files with SkyDrive

  13. Gary

    My Documents has a folder within it for my work folder. This folder then has several sub-folders, each containing several more files.

    With SkyDrive (or indeed with Google Drive), will I be able to:

    Upload the entire work folder (nearly 3gb) to SkyDrive with its entire folder structure intact
    Then sync this folder with my Home and work PCs and any Android phone?

    SugarSync can.

    SugarSync is perhaps the most infuriating and the least user friendly cloud product out there but boy does it work!

  14. DaFoo

    @Gary

    Yes you can do that with Skydrive.

  15. Denise

    I am wondering about the likelood that the ability to sync only selected folders will be added. So I have 25 GB of space on Skydrive – but if my laptop is only 4 – then i am limited by to 4 GB – (assuming i would want to use my entire drive for Skydrive) – then really skydrive isn;t very useful as an “external” harddrive.

  16. ginger

    I want to be able to sync folders that are located on my desktop. It isn’t user friendly to require users to keep everything they want synced in one folder.

    Is it possible to creat a shortcut to a folder on the desktop?

  17. David of WCS

    Ginger,
    You are going about it backwards. You don’t keep folders and files on your desktop, you keep them in your user folder structure. You then can put “short-cuts” on the destop to these items.
    DW.

  18. Chris Hoffman

    @Denise

    Google Drive can do this, but it only offers 5 GB of storage for free. SkyDrive beats Google Drive in the amount of storage offered, especially if you were grandfathered into the 25 GB.

  19. Dean Kellham

    I think the new SkyDrive is great. 25GB for free. Now I understand that some are annoyed that they are limited to only being able to sync the contents of one folder- I’m not sure if this actually works but has anyone attempted using junction links within the SkyDrive folder?

    As far as shared files / folders goes- I don’t use this myself but it is needed. I can see it being a great feature, and given SkyDrive’s massive claim that you can share files easily and such, it seems like a stupid omission.

    Also add some degree of selection- maybe I don’t want every file on my SkyDrive synced with every device I own- let me pick the folders to sync with each device.

  20. HAL

    One feature I’m willing to learn about, please any insight would be helpful:

    Lessay I install the SkyDrive app for Windows. I already have 1 GB or so stored in my online SkyDrive account. Lessay I DO-NOT wish all those documents back into my computer. But I DO wish to use SkyDrive for Windows to add more files, get them synced online, and then (here comes my specific ignorance on the subject), do something like “uncheck” the syncing feature, so that I can delete a given file in my computer but it’s kept in my online SkyDrive account.

    For one, I am concerned that at the sole action of installing the SkyDrive app for Windows, all those documents that I have online will try to “back-load” to my computer.

    Any thoughts? TIA!

  21. Chris Hoffman

    @HAL

    I don’t think you can do selective folder sync with SkyDrive — so it will always download everything and store it on your computer. I believe you can upload via the web interface, if you really want, so that’s an option.

  22. HAL

    @Chris Hoffman

    Duh. Yeah, just the suspicion I had. I appreciate the reply, anyway, you kept away me from a world of pain :)

    In comparison, the Dropbox app for Windows does have selective sync, and it can be configured during the install tutorial, where you can select the folders to sync, or sync all at once. In Dropbox this feature is only controlled from the desktop clients, not from the web interface.

    Regarding SkyDrive, what you believe, I confirm. You can upload via the web interface, which is the method I currently use. It’s clumsy and tiresome, but it works. And if you have used SkyDrive for a while, then you know that it used to be even clumsier, before Microsoft implemented HTML 5, cause it used to work almost entirely under Microsoft Silverlight, which is Microsoft sick joke in order to have Flash-like technology.

  23. Basilp

    There are syncing problems – as hunky dory as Microsoft wants us to believe. The skydrivesetup.exe program did generate the correct folder structure on my PC hard drive but it DID NOT copy all the files correctly. Some folders had only a few files copied over to my PC others remained completely empty.
    Clicking on the “synching” icon showing on these files did not improve the situation (!) and I am certainly NOT prepared to copy the files manually myself (I have been using my sky drive for quite some time via the web live mail connection). Come on Microsoft sort out your skydrive software. It doesn’t work properly yet and it is vital if users are persuaded to use it freely as a “normal drive” and win them over the Google cloud drive.

  24. ginger

    @DW –
    Thank you – but now I am more confused.
    “Ginger, You are going about it backwards. You don’t keep folders and files on your desktop, you keep them in your user folder structure. You then can put “short-cuts” on the destop to these items.”

    Do you mean that I SHOULDN’T keep folders and files on my desktop?
    Cause that’s where i put the ones that i use most often. I thought i read somewhere that creating shortcuts didn’t work. Has anyone tried it?

  25. ginger

    I really want to use this but am so concerned about the possible drawbacks!
    Will my live mesh stop working if i insall skydrive desktop?
    - rumors are that it is disapearing but i want to use it as long as possible.
    When it is gone – I will be screwed – it is important to me to keep certain files synced btwn computers – without web interface. – for several reasons.

    Also i am very concerned about security.
    What if my laptop is lost or stolen? – when all my stuff is deleted on it – It will all dispear from skydrive and my other computer as well?
    Seems to be exactly the opposite of a good way to store anything that you actully want to keeep.

  26. Derek

    Looks good !!

    We installed the sky drive app on our server,this then allows sharing of folder/folders to other sites /pc and another server.
    GREAT! the folder sycs into my sky drive location to

    But i have a little problem if anyone can help ?

    When i logon to the skydrive from a new pc (web access) i can only see the shared 25gig area (docs,photos, family etc)
    as i selected to sync my folder to the sky drive why does this not show up ??

    i would like to access some of the pc synced files remotely from web but this only seems to work if i have previously installed windows essentials (and xp gets left out)

    anyone ??

    D

  27. Ni Lao

    Not able to see shared files/folders on my disk. Very disappointing. Please just copy dropbox–how hard can it be ????

  28. Josua

    Excellent, simple, to-the-point “How To” for Skydrive. Even the Windows Live site does not provide such clarity in using Skydrive!

  29. HAL

    @Chris
    Thanks for the reply. Guess I’m stuck with only uploading via the web interface until SkyDrive comes enabled with selective sync.

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