SkyDrive updated to Wave 5 with full UI revamp, new features and performance improvements

By damaster | In Featured, News | Posted June 20, 2011

SkyDriveLiveSide exclusively showed off the first screenshots of the new SkyDrive back in May. A few weeks ago, we also saw further screenshot leaks giving us a glimpse of what’s to come. Today, Microsoft officially unveiled a major update to their Windows Live SkyDrive cloud storage service, complete with a new UI, new features, significant performance improvements, as well as a bigger file size limit – doubling from 50MB to 100MB per file.

LiveSide recently had a chance to talk with Anand Babu, Senior Product Manager on the SkyDrive team, about the new SkyDrive. Built using HTML5 (rather than Silverlight), the new SkyDrive now takes advantage of CSS3 Transitions and H.264 video to bring the experience “live” to you. It also brings together Windows Live Photos (http://photos.live.com) and Office (http://office.live.com) all into one place, providing a single interface for all files stored on SkyDrive.

According to the official blog post, here’s a list of the new features and improvements in the new SkyDrive:

It’s Faster.

  • Support for H.264 videosCaching and hardware acceleration – Common tasks and scenarios, like clicking on folders and navigating photo albums will go from 6-9 seconds down to 100-300 milliseconds. We took advantage of hardware accelerated graphics to make it fast to skip through slideshows.
  • Support for HTML5 video tag – Playback H.264 videos (with support for files of up to 100MB).
  • Pin SkyDrive to your taskbar – With Internet Explorer 9 on Windows 7, you can pin SkyDrive to your taskbar for even faster access to the files you want. Create Word, Excel or PowerPoint docs stored in the cloud in just one click.

Is Easier to Navigate.

  • All your content in one place including SkyDrive groupsAll your content in one place including SkyDrive groups - We brought together all your photos, docs, files shared with you and files in SkyDrive groups into one view. We took elements of the common file system you’re used to on Windows and Mac OS so navigating SkyDrive is more intuitive.
  • Quick views – We incorporated navigational elements and a layout that is consistent with Hotmail (Quick Views for recent docs & files shared with you).
  • Information pane - We removed ads to create room for a pane of information about your files – so you can take actions such as opening a doc in Word or Excel on the desktop directly from SkyDrive.

Photos are More Beautiful.

  • Mosaic layoutMosaic layout – We got the chrome out of the way to let your photos fill the browser. We create thumbnails that reflect the original aspect ratio of your picture. Portraits, landscapes and panoramas can retain their personality even in thumbnail mode.
  • Clean arrangement – Regardless of what size screen you have, how big your browser window is, or how many photos you have, SkyDrive always arranges your photos into a perfect, clean square. In achieving this, we use CSS3 Transitions to add life to your photo album by animating thumbnail rearranging when you resize the browser window.
  • Living, breathing presentation – When viewing your albums, SkyDrive pulses through your thumbnails, letting you experience the contents of an album even before diving in.
  • Infinite scrolling – We no longer have pages in the photo viewing experience; you just scroll the page and quickly see your photos fill in. It looks and feels like a native application.

To see how the “Live Tiles”-like photo album thumbnails “pulses”, or how the CSS3 transitions actually looks like, check out the video below:

[youtube_video]YdhB2u2mOLM[/youtube_video]

One interesting side note – Anand Babu told us that a decision was made to take back the real estate from the former right side skyscraper ad, they simply needed more room.  So instead of an ad, SkyDrive visitors will see a contextual menu, and can click on the blue “i” information icon for more granular control of SkyDrive folders and files (the icons aren’t appearing in the screenshots we were provided, but they were shown to us, we’ll be looking for them in the live version!)

Unfortunately, while the single file size limit has been increased to 100MB in this update, the total SkyDrive storage is still 25GB. Also, the “SkyDrive synced storage” for Windows Live Mesh is still currently separate from the main SkyDrive storage (we’re checking on this, and will update the post as soon as we hear back edit: we’ve confirmed that Windows Live Mesh storage remains the same with this SkyDrive update). There’s also no news yet about purchasable expandable storage, integration with Mesh, seamless support for other medias (like music), APIs support, or how SkyDrive will integrate with Windows 8, however we understand that these features may come as part of future updates. Do take in mind that this new SkyDrive update is the first of more updates to come, as Microsoft gradually moves away from large “wave” releases for its Windows Live web services, moving towards smaller incremental releases such as the recent updates we’ve seen with Hotmail.

As we understood previously, Microsoft aims to move SkyDrive as a back-end service (for Windows Phone, Office Web Apps…etc.) towards more of a front-end application, forming one of the three major “communication properties” of Windows Live along with Hotmail and Messenger. There’s definitely more coming for the future of Windows Live, so stay tuned at LiveSide as we bring you the latest.

The new SkyDrive is now (or should be very soon) available to all users at http://skydrive.live.com.  Babu told us that we wouldn’t be seeing a rollout like we’ve seen with Hotmail, instead it should be a matter of “flipping a switch”, so to speak. (note: indeed we just heard word that it may be sometime later this afternoon before the switch is made.  We’ll update when we hear more)

You can also check out the official SkyDrive change log for this update here.

Posted June 20th, 2011 at 2:00 pm