One of the biggest changes in Windows 8.1 is SkyDrive integration. In Windows 8, SkyDrive was available as a Modern app and a desktop app that you could install. In Windows 8.1, SkyDrive is integrated at the system level.

SkyDrive integration doesn’t just apply to Modern apps. It’s also available in File Explorer on the desktop, so this change matters to desktop users, too. SkyDrive’s File Explorer integration works a little differently from Dropbox and other cloud storage apps.

This also works with Windows RT, so Surface RT users finally have a way to sync SkyDrive files to their local storage and access them from the desktop.

Windows Setup

Windows 8.1’s SkyDrive integration is optional. When you set up Windows, you will be prompted to choose whether you want to use the new SkyDrive integration. The “Use SkyDrive” button is highlighted while the “Don’t use SkyDrive” option is a bit hidden, so it’s clear that Microsoft wants to nudge Windows users towards its own cloud storage solution and away from local storage.

File Explorer Integration

Assuming you opt to enable SkyDrive, you’ll find SkyDrive integrated at the system level. If you’re a desktop user, the most obvious place you’ll see SkyDrive is in the File Explorer window. You’ll no longer need the SkyDrive client app installed.

SkyDrive is higher up in the File Explorer’s sidebar, while files on your current PC are relegated to a new “This PC” section, stressing that Microsoft wants you to store your important files in the cloud. Libraries have been hidden entirely from the default interface.

SkyDrive has a trick up its sleeve: The files you see in your SkyDrive folder aren’t automatically synced to your local computer. They’re stored in the cloud and will be downloaded to your computer when you open them. This allows SkyDrive to function on tablets and other devices with limited storage, even if you have 100 GB of personal files in your SkyDrive account.

If you want to make files or folders available offline ahead of time, you can right-click them and select Make available offline. This works similarly to the way you’d pin files offline in apps like Dropbox and Google Drive for smartphones and tablets.

PC Settings Options

You’ll find options for controlling SkyDrive in the PC settings app. There’s a new “SkyDrive” category in PC Settings, which includes the old Windows Sync options.

There’s a Storage space pane that allows you to view your total space and how much you’re using, with a link to buy additional storage. This is all integrated into the operating system, so you don’t have to open a website to manage this anymore.

The Files pane allows you to control a variety of SkyDrive settings. You can set Windows to save your documents to SkyDrive by default, have Windows automatically upload photos and videos from your Camera roll folder to SkyDrive, and control how SkyDrive works on metered connections, such as when you’re tethered to your phone or directly connected to a cellular network with a Windows tablet.

If you want to automatically upload your photos, be sure to store them in the Camera roll folder. They’ll be stored here automatically if you take them with the camera on your tablet or Windows 8 PC. If you’re transferring them from a digital camera or smartphone, be sure to place them in the Camera roll folder or they won’t be automatically uploaded.

Windows 8’s Sync options are now part of SkyDrive. All the old options are here, in addition to new options like syncing your installed apps and open tabs. Like in Windows 8, you can control the individual types of settings that sync or disable settings syncing entirely.

SkyDrive App Updates

The SkyDrive Modern app has also been updated. It now allows you to browse files on “This PC,” so it functions as a sort of official Modern File Explorer.

Burying the current computer’s file browser as a secondary option in a cloud storage app shows just how serious Microsoft is about SkyDrive and cloud storage — they want to drag Windows users along to a new, connected future where their important files are stored in the cloud. If nothing else, this will help protect average users, many of whom don’t run regular backups, from losing all their files when their computers fail.

If you’re a Windows 8 user, SkyDrive just got a lot more compelling. Microsoft’s cloud storage service is very competitive and is probably now the ideal option for users who are invested in Microsoft’s new operating system and other platforms, such as Windows Phone. Even if you don’t use SkyDrive, you’ll probably want a SkyDrive account just for syncing your Windows settings — and that’s what Microsoft is betting on.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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