Today the headlines are all about Dropbox, and how the fast-rising company turned down an offer from Steve Jobs, who called the file storage and sharing service “a feature, not a product”. Precisely.
Dropbox has been getting a lot of headlines lately, as has iCloud, the “feature” that Apple built into iOS5. Forbes is featuring Dropbox and company founder Drew Houston on its cover this month, as the company just finished a $250 million round of funding, with a valuation placed at $4 billion. Dropbox has 50 million users, with a new one added “every second”, and with its freemium model (a free entry tier with additional storage available for a monthly price), Houston told Forbes that even if it didn’t add a single user next year, its revenues would double (from around $240 million this year).
Interestingly, in a video “chat” among Forbes editors, in part discussing Dropbox’s potential competitors, smaller companies, Apple’s iCloud, and a potential move into the space by Google are all seen as threats, but Microsoft and SkyDrive aren’t even mentioned:
If you’ve been following along at home, you know that we’ve long been fans of, and been frustrated by Microsoft’s cloud storage story, specifically SkyDrive. Two years ago, at PDC 09, we spoke casually to a couple of Microsoft PMs who argued against allowing users to be able to do precisely what Dropbox does with SkyDrive, that is, provide a client to make moving files to the cloud easy and seamless. At that time, the feeling was that it would simply cost too much money to provide storage at the scale that a Microsoft service would need, with little in the way in revenue in return. We felt at the time it was a shortsighted approach, and now we’re watching as Dropbox and iCloud move in on what should be SkyDrive’s territory.
SkyDrive should be on every device, and maybe the addition of Skype to Microsoft will push other services like SkyDrive to fully embrace a cross platform model. It should be simple and straightforward to drag and drop files from anywhere “up into the cloud”, and to get them back again, from anywhere. Sync, with Windows Live Mesh, should play a significant role, making it even easier. There shouldn’t be limits on what you can store (sharing is a bit of a different story, due to copyright complications), with a simple tiered service, hopefully one that well undercuts Dropbox and iCloud.
Now you may note that Microsoft recently introduced Live Connect, which allows third parties to programmatically access SkyDrive, but that’s not the same thing. We don’t want to have to build our own client, or to have a third party in the way of our connecting to the cloud. We just want to use a native service, seamlessly.
Microsoft does not have a compelling consumer service. Oh, they have Hotmail, and they’re working hard on cleaning up their self-inflected messes there. And yes there’s Messenger, which seems to be in some kind of Skype induced limbo. They have Windows Phone, but it looks to remain a distant third (if that) for the foreseeable future. Office 365 is a small business play. Windows Live has been left, like almost everything Microsoft touches, to founder, with no significant updates to Windows Live Essentials in almost two years. Skype may be the closest thing Microsoft has now to a consumer hit, but it’s only been a few days since the deal closed, and could be a long time before Skype and Microsoft are considered one and the same.
SkyDrive is Microsoft’s big chance, and maybe last chance, to capture some hearts and minds in the consumer space. Coupled with Windows Live Mesh (which we’ve heard little about either, except for some lame trickery about syncing your desktop backgrounds in Windows 8. Who needs that? What we need is seamless files synchronization across devices and across platforms), SkyDrive has all the pieces in place to blow the doors off the competition, yet Microsoft drives their consumer offerings with one foot firmly on the brake.
The market wants, needs actually, to hear loud and clear what SkyDrive has to offer, or Microsoft will find itself chasing Dropbox and iCloud, and even GDrive, the same way that it’s chasing iPhone and Android, Facebook and Twitter and Google +, the iPad, and Gmail. This isn’t about when “Microsoft is ready to share”, the market needs to hear now, or it will soon be too late, again.