With SkyDrive, the hits just keep on coming, further justifying my decision to move to this cloud storage solution for virtually all of my ongoing storage needs. 2012 has already been a huge year for SkyDrive, but this week, Microsoft pushed it to 11 by delivering a sweeping series of updates to the service.

These updates include improvements to the cloud service’s infrastructure, a new Metro-style user interface for the web service (which I previewed two weeks ago in Outlook.com + SkyDrive: Microsoft Reimagines Cloud Storage), a coming mobile app for Android-based smart phones and tablets, and vastly improved support for third party apps that run on top of the service.

Whew!

SkyDrive on the web

In Outlook.com + SkyDrive: Microsoft Reimagines Cloud Storage, I wrote about and showed the new Metro-style user interface that Microsoft has developed for its SkyDrive.com web service. However, when readers signed up for Outlook.com, they were confused to see the old, Windows Live-based version of the SkyDrive UI. I asked about this numerous times, and Microsoft explained that the new experience would go live in about two weeks. (I hadn’t realized everyone wasn’t getting it right away.)

Well, right on schedule, the new UI is live. If you’re familiar with the Metro-style Windows 8 app for SkyDrive, the web interface will look quite familiar. It uses the same tiles-based layouts as the Windows 8 app but utilizes some common elements from the rest of Outlook.com, including the gray navigational bar on the left—where, in SkyDrive, you gain access to search, (all) files, recent docs, groups, PCs, and other options—and a right-mounted Details pane that is collapsed by default for a cleaner look.

sd

If you’re a fan of the old version for some reason, two changes will return a somewhat classic look to SkyDrive: Change the tile view to list view and enable the Details pane. Voila! It’s the old SkyDrive. Sort of.

old

Frankly, I like the new look and, as with Outlook.com Mail, it works better here on the web with SkyDrive than it does in the Windows 8 app, which lacks such niceties as drag and drop. With SkyDrive.com, however, you can do things like drag files into a folder and an upload will start automatically.

drag

You can also do multi-select drag and drop from within the SkyDrive web interface. This kind of stuff is currently impossible in Microsoft’s half-finished Windows 8-based apps infrastructure. (Though one can expect this kind of functionality to be added over time.)

So SkyDrive has a pretty new face, but let’s not overlook some of the equally important changes that Microsoft has implemented under the hood. A new instant search feature, available from any folder view in the service, will find document and picture files from anywhere in SkyDrive. (And it appears to work exactly like that: So even if you’ve navigated deep into a folder structure and then search, it will search your entire SkyDrive storage.)

search
 

SkyDrive application for Windows

I’ve been using the SkyDrive application for Windows since the first preview release and with the arrival of Windows Essentials 2012, and the completion of “Windows 8 Secrets,” I’ve moved entirely to this solution and off of Windows Live Mesh. During this time, the application has only gotten better, with Microsoft improving the design, performance and reliability in a previous update. This week’s update offers similar performance and reliability improvements, though this time the changes were made as a result of user feedback.

In particular, photo uploading has improved dramatically, and the performance is almost twice as fast, according to Microsoft. One thing that hasn’t been implemented in the application, however, is the ability to choose which SkyDrive-based folders to sync to your PC; this is increasingly important because many users have low capacity SSD-based storage now but conversely have paid for extra SkyDrive storage. Microsoft says it is working on this feature.

SkyDrive mobile app for Android

With the announcement of an Android-based SkyDrive mobile app for smart phones and tablets, SkyDrive’s mobile picture will soon be complete. This app, due in about two weeks, will join previous mobile apps for Windows 8 and RT, Windows Phone, the iPhone, and the iPad.

Based on Microsoft’s screenshots of the app—I don’t have a copy for testing yet myself—it seems to look and work much like other SkyDrive mobile apps. No surprise there.

android
 

SkyDrive for developers

In December 2011, Microsoft opened up SkyDrive to third party developers, enabling the creation of Windows applications, mobile apps, and web apps that can “fully access, upload and share documents, photos and videos from a user's cloud storage in SkyDrive.” This week, Microsoft is offering the next major update to its developer APIs for SkyDrive, offering three key improvements. First, there are no longer any restrictions on the types of files that your application uploads to SkyDrive. Second, apps can now upload images to SkyDrive in their full resolution. (This issue has dogged Windows Phone since its inception, as you may know.) And third, the web APIs have been updated with a SkyDrive file picker, which lets web apps open and save files to and from the service using just a few lines of JavaScript.

Developers interested in these and other SkyDrive capabilities can check out the new version of the Interactive SDK, part of the broader Live SDK, which also includes programmatic access to Hotmail, Messenger, and the Microsoft Account identity services.