March 15, 2010, 2:06 PM — The promise of personal cloud computing has almost been realized, as personal and business users across all platforms are slowly starting to ascend to the cloud.
When discussing cloud computing on any level, it's important to understand just what kind of cloud you're talking about. Essentially, for single users, cloud use comes in two categories: online storage and online applications.
Online applications come in all shapes and sizes: from the Flash-based games your kids are playing to the full-bore office productivity apps found in Google Docs and Office Live. As Internet connectivity improves and more web-enabled applications are developed, it's not hard to imagine a future where the platform is the browser, no matter what the operating system might be.
As cloud applications mature, the benefits of cloud storage are available now. Online storage providers are all over the Internet, offering different capacities at different pricing plans. The good news is, if you look carefully, you can find safe, reliable storage for the best price of all: free.
Making Sense of the Microsoft Mess
It make sense that Microsoft, makers of the Windows operating system, offers its users an online storage plan. What doesn't make sense--at first glance--is that Microsoft seems to have three different online storage plans--Windows Live Sync, Windows Live SkyDrive, and Live Mesh--which don't seem to work together.
So which one is best? In reality, while these services can overlap with each other in terms of functionality, they do have differing purposes.
Windows Live Sync is a Windows or OS X client that enables users to sync files between two or more machines, and share them with authorized users. This is not really cloud storage, so much as peer-to-peer syncing between computers.
Windows Live SkyDrive falls in line with what you think cloud storage should be. Registered Windows Live members can save up to 25Gb of files online, free of charge. The only limitation is that no file can be larger than 50Mb. Better yet, the storage exists for users of any platform, so Linux and OS X users can make use of this space, too. If, that is, they can get over the mental hurdle of actually tapping Microsoft as a service provider.
Live Mesh is a combination of both of these services, plus a little extra. There's online storage (but only 5Gb), synchronization and sharing of files between any computer specified on the network (both yours and invited Live members), and remote desktop functionality.