Update (April 2012): I have since written a new article comparing SkyDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive which is more up to date. You are best reading that guide, rather than this one, as some of the information about SkyDrive mentioned below is now wrong, although I’m keeping it here for reference.
If you’re like me, you’ll have a free Dropbox account for keeping files in sync between multiple computers, as well as having documents available on demand wherever there’s an internet connection, or on your mobile phone. Here’s my referral link. It’s a good, simple service that works well, and it’s free – although you can pay for more storage.
Microsoft has been working on a competitor called Windows Live SkyDrive which also offers integration with its Office Live suite of web apps. There’s now also an iPhone app (and presumably a Windows Phone app as well). Plus, with up to 25 GB of free storage, it starts to compare quite favourably with Dropbox. So, which is best?
On the face of it, SkyDrive wins – 25 GB versus 2 GB for a plain vanilla free Dropbox account. However, it’s quite easy to get more space on Dropbox – you should be able to manage at least another 1 GB for free, and with a bit of effort even more – some have even taken to buying AdWords campaigns for around $20 to get up to 16 GB. And whereas Dropbox lets you use all of your space for anything, with SkyDrive, you can only use up to 5 GB to synchronise between computers using its Live Mesh service (more on that later). The other 20 GB has to be used via web uploads, iPhone app, Microsoft Office or Office Live. On this basis, it’s a draw.
Dropbox has official clients for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, plus mobile clients for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. Its open API means that unofficial clients are available for further platforms as well. SkyDrive is available on Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion – i.e. not available for Windows XP or Linux; alternatively you can access specific documents in Microsoft Office, on the web or on a mobile app. And as yet, SkyDrive doesn’t work on Android or any Linux desktops, nor is there an open API for third-party developers to use.
Dropbox’s main draw is simplicity – there’s one folder that gets synced on all of your computers, and you can also access this folder online or on a mobile app. As mentioned, with SkyDrive you can only sync up to 5 GB; furthermore, those synced folders then cannot be edited by Office Live apps, so it’s a bit more complex. Plus there’s the whole confusion between the SkyDrive and Mesh products.
I could go on, but frankly having reviewed both services Dropbox wins purely by being simple and ubiquitous. SkyDrive does give you more space for free, and also integrates well with Hotmail if you use it, but it also adds a layer of complexity by only letting you use a portion of your allowance for syncing files between desktops. And because the un-synced portion doesn’t mount as a folder on your desktop, you can’t save files to it directly, so really it’s only useful for more long-term storage, or files that aren’t edited frequently. I’ll therefore be sticking with Dropbox.