Does Windows 8 need "real" integration with third-party cloud storage providers?

One of the great (if not the greatest) new features of Windows 8 and Office 13 is the integration with Microsoft's cloud storage platform called SkyDrive. At first glance, you might think that SkyDrive is nothing more than "Microsoft's version of Dropbox" and that its "integration" with Windows 8 is simply a default syncing of photos and documents.

One of the great (if not the greatest) new features of Windows 8 and Office 13 is the integration with Microsoft's cloud storage platform called SkyDrive. At first glance, you might think that SkyDrive is nothing more than "Microsoft's version of Dropbox" and that its "integration" with Windows 8 is simply a default syncing of photos and documents.

While there are many similarities between SkyDrive, Dropbox, and others (many gigabytes of storage, the ability to sync and access files across Windows, Mac, iOS, web), the real power of SkyDrive is that it offers deep and meaningful integration with Office 13 and Windows 8.

For example, traditional cloud storage services like Dropbox simply synchronize a folder on multiple devices via the cloud. (e.g. You get a fully synced "My Documents" folder on any device.) While that's fine, they don't fundamentally change the behavior of the OS or of any application. Files are saved, then synced. The end.

Of course since this simple cloud file sync is quickly becoming a commodity, we're seeing cloud storage providers like Dropbox and Box rush to "add value" and "differentiate" their offerings, though really it's all via external features like collaboration and version control.

In many ways these third-party cloud storage providers are legacy, since they only have access to the file system. (They're Henry Ford's fabled "faster horse" or Chetan Venkatesh's "electric typewriter.") Moving forward, will we even care about files when our devices and applications are directly cloud-enabled?

Moving forward: "real" app and device cloud integration

In a great blog post, Microsoft identifies three types of clouds that can be used in end user computing scenarios: the "file cloud" (Dropbox, Box), "device cloud" (syncs device settings like iCloud), and "app cloud" (cloud-based apps like iTunes or Netflix).

Clearly the file clouds were great when all of our devices, OSes, and apps were based around files, but moving forward, the device clouds and app clouds will rule. They will, quite simply, be able to provide a level of meaningful seamless integration that you can't get by schlepping a bunch of files around.

Taking a look at Windows 8 and Office 13, we see that Microsoft is firmly embracing the device cloud and app cloud via SkyDrive integration. Your custom dictionaries seamlessly move from device to device when you integrate your Windows Live ID. (The Live ID is the user ID that authenticates users Microsoft's cloud-based services like SkyDrive.) In Office 13, instead of simply saving and syncing .docx files (which Dropbox can do), SkyDrive allows users to richly edit and collaborate on those same documents with others via the web.

And, perhaps more importantly, SkyDrive-enabled documents bring the cloud and collaboration into the local "traditional" Office experience too. So even though you're using your local copy of Word to edit a local document, you can also collaborate, comment, markup, and chat about the document—all within the locally-running copy of Word, all thanks to SkyDrive. That's a level of app-based cloud integration that an external provider like Dropbox just can't touch.

Amazing! Too bad we're locked in now

These super-integrated cloud-enabled capabilities of Windows 8 and Office 13 are amazing! Problem is, they only work with Microsoft SkyDrive. You're completely locked in. You want to do this with Office? Then you're using SkyDrive. Done.

Of course Microsoft isn't alone in this lock-in. One of my favorite features of Mac OS X Mountain Lion is the integration with Apple's iCloud service. In this case, iCloud is very similar to SkyDrive on Windows 8. While any Mac user is welcome to install Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive, or any other cloud storage service, only iCloud provides pervasive integration throughout the entire OS.

Can we have alternate cloud providers?

This leads to a key question: Do modern operating systems, devices, and applications need the ability to offer "true" integration with other cloud storage providers? If so, what would that look like?

Both Windows 8 and Mac OS X Mountain Lion offer OS-wide configuration options for "core" services like email, chat, contacts, Twitter, etc. Wouldn't it be great if users could just as easily configure which cloud service (or services) they'd like to use for data storage, collaboration, or personal settings synch? I'd love to have the same level of integration with Dropbox on my Mac versus iCloud.

There would several advantages to this. In addition to users being able to choose the cheapest service or the provider they perceive to be the most secure, giving users the ability to choose their own cloud provider would also mean that enterprises could choose their own providers (whether public or private) for their users. Or is this a level of control that the OS makers don't want to give up?

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Good point, Brian, being open for alternative cloud providers is really important. Lock-in is good for a single company only, whereas openness helps everybody, ultimately even the software company.

In a future, where more and more things are stored in clouds, it must be possible 1) to select which cloud to store data in and 2) store all personal data in a single cloud. Nobody wants 20% of his data in iCloud, 30% in SkyDrive, 15% in DropBox, and so on.

Sounds like (another) task for the EU.


While being locked into SkyDrive for the complete fully integrated experience may be an issue, don't we already put up with that with a lot of other SaaS?

Then the lock in issue becomes "Why can I only access this fully integrated MSFT Office/skydrive experience from the Windows clients? Why no native iOS clients?"

I want the "app cloud" to extend to whatever device I choose. And of course fo most people, when the form factor that they want is a tablet, it's an iPad, or maybe Android. And I guess Apple gets a pass on this's Apple? Hmmm...I'll have to think about this more and make it into an article :)


From another angle, what if someone went to Google or Salesforce or some other huge SaaS provider and said "Hey, I love everything you're doing, but I want to store all my stuff on premise, or in this random cloud storage provider..." That seems odd. Another article idea...


If Microsoft doesn't provide a way to change cloud sync providers, then I could easily see thus being a legal issue with the EU or others much like IE was. In my opinion it really needs to be inter-changeable... what about enterprises that don't want their users using public clouds, but instead want them to use something like ShareFile, Octopus, etc. where they have tighter control of the data.


Following this logic, should Apple also allow you to choose which cloud provider your apps sync their data to, as at present your only choice is Apple's own iCloud.

Microsoft emulated this model with Window 8 so if it's good for Apple it's also good for MS right?

Noone appears to be banging down Apple's door threatening EU fines and legal action because they don't give you a choice as to which cloud provider to sync your app data too.


@helgeklein, Totally disagree, I do not want to care where my data is stored and for sure don't want it in just one place.

@Neil who gives a crap about the EU anyway, they're busy bailing our Greece, Spain etc and have bigger problems to worry about.


@Neil Not necessarily.

I think Apple is still seen as a consumer company, and that the majority of the data they store in iCloud is just that consumer data.

It's not used to store typical data which may be business sensitive or maybe HIPAA, PCI, SOX data. It may be used to access a SAP or SaaS application, but that would mean the data is stored outside of iCloud.

Windows on the other hand is business tool, which is highly more likely to have users working with sensitive business data, and a IT organization needs the ability to control this type of data.  All data stored in SkyDrive is subject to monitoring by Microsoft, which many businesses might not like.

You also have to look at this in scale of a business.  SkyDrive gives users 7GB free of storage space, which is great but what happens when you use that have to switch the teired plan of SkyDrive +20, SkyDrive +50, or SkyDrive +100 which varies in price from country to country, but times that by 1000 and the cost adds up quick as you become a semi Office 365 company.

There may be someday where there is more Apple devices then Window devices, and one could argue that they need to be treated the same, but the time being the shouldn't IMO.


Good points

It clear that Microsoft is not off the hook when it comes to EU antitrust regulations. The EU has recently brought to Microsoft's attention it's failure to adhere to the original ruling on browser choice in Windows 7 from its launch in January 2011 until it was fixed in July 2012. Which could cost Microsoft up to 10% of its total annual turnover. The EU has yet to rule on Windows 8, but there is no reason to think that it will be any different.

Windows RT might however be a different matter. In the mobile market Microsoft is coming from behind, and it is reasonable to argue that it should not be singled out for attention by the EU. The only reason the the EU targeted Microsoft for breach of antitrust legislation was that it had and still has an effective monopoly of desktop operating systems. Regardless of how well Apple is doing at present, its percentage of overall desktop sales is still too small for it to warrant the EU's attention, and we should not forget that Apple, for all its strengths, has no monopoly in mobile. Samsung's latest sales figures show that it is shipping to devices for everyone that Apple ships, and Samsung is just one of many vendors offering mobile devices that compete with Apple. Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 will be competing head-to-head with iOS and Android, and therefore might be exempt from EU antitrust review. However I do not think Microsoft will see the EU relax its position with respect to Windows 8, and will require it to implement a "choice screen".

I think the same position is likely to be adopted when it comes to "cloud lock-in".

Considering integration with third-party cloud services providers. While iCloud may be seen as equivalent to IE on the desktop in terms of its effective lock-in, Apple is not so dominant on any mobile platform that it would not be able to mount a strong defense against antitrust regulations. There is sufficient choice here that anyone not wishing to get locked in to iCloud can find an alternative, even if it is only being locked into somebody else's cloud. However this degree of choice only really applies to to mobile operating systems, it does not let Windows 8 off the hook. While the current EU ruling is limited to browsers, Helge is right, third-party cloud integration is something that the EU's antitrust regulators should be take into account.