On Thursday, Microsoft took its Windows Live SkyDrive online storage service out of beta, and added a few significant enhancements. Chief among these is a boost to the service's storage space: When the SkyDrive beta began last year, Microsoft was allotting users just 512 MB of space, though that amount was later upped to 1 GB. Now out of beta, SkyDrive offers a more reasonable 5 GB of storage space. That's not too shabby, considering that the service is completely free.

Also new in the non-beta version of SkyDrive is support for 38 countries and regions around the world. Previously, the beta version of SkyDrive was available only in Great Britain, India, and the US.

Finally, the non-beta version of SkyDrive has been sped up and made more reliable, according to Microsoft. My own tests bear this out, though the service still feels a bit pokey to me, especially when uploading. Again, it's free, so this isn't a huge deal in light of the convenience and advantages of having a safe and secure place to store files online.

Other than that, SkyDrive looks and works much like it did in beta. You can create public and private folders and files, and integration with other Windows Live services means you can very easily create a folder full of files, for example, that is shared only with very specific people in your Windows Live Contacts database. Beyond that, you can also configure individual users as readers or edits, so they can optionally add and change files as well.

If SkyDrive has a real fault, it's that there's no way to increase the storage allotment. My guess is that Microsoft will eventually move to a yearly subscription fee for more storage as part of a "SkyDrive Pro" service, or perhaps by aggregating the storage available across all of its Windows Live services. For now, those with headier storage requirements--such as those that would like to backup digital photos--will need to look elsewhere.

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