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The way Microsoft uses the word “SkyDrive” these days, it’s not impossible to have up to 7 or more things in your life with that label spread across multiple services and devices! You’d certainly be forgiven for getting mixed up about what’s what, so let’s briefly try to clarify each one.

In 2008, as part of its great Live family of products, Microsoft launched an online storage service called Windows Live SkyDrive. Even by today’s standards it had a fair amount of free storage but it lacked offline capabilities and mobile client access. Fast forward a few years and SkyDrive has become a superb service, offering 7 GB of free storage, tons more available for purchase, client apps for Windows, OS X, Android, iOS, Windows Phone and even Xbox 360, and a host of other features. Read more about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SkyDrive.

More recently, as part of SharePoint 2013, Microsoft has begun to extend the SkyDrive brand as SkyDrive “Pro”. Like its consumer counterpart, it offers three key features: cloud based document storage and management, easy sharing and the ability to keep in sync with a local offline copy, all within the context of SharePoint (both on premises or in Office 365). Let’s take a quick look at each of these out of the box, then we’ll look at how harmon.ie 4.0 makes them even better.

The first place you’re likely to encounter SkyDrive Pro in SharePoint is via the link on the top menu, as you can see in the screenshot below (for some reason, Microsoft left off the “Pro” part, which just adds to the confusion).

SkyDrive Pro

Clicking this link takes you to your private document storage in your MySite where you get the full power of SharePoint we all love – the ability to store, version, search and so on – all wrapped around your own personal documents. This would be a great My Documents replacement except for one thing: it’s online only. To help solve this, Microsoft now also offers a tool to sync SharePoint content onto your local hard drive. In fact, it can connect and sync not only to your MySite content but pretty much any document library in SharePoint. This marvellous sync tool is called … you guessed it… SkyDrive Pro!

Finally, within your SkyDrive Pro storage you have the ability to easily share content on an ad-hoc basis with others by clicking the Share button on the item context menu, which opens up a window similar to the one below allowing you to select target users, send an email invite message, and select access rights. However, in your SkyDrive Pro storage area, you need to do this on a per-item basis so it can be quite a laborious process if you have a number of items to share!

Share 'Book1'

At this point, aside from some tragic confusion around naming, SkyDrive Pro is a superb combination of offerings and underpinnings and you can read more about it at http://office.microsoft.com/en-za/sharepoint-server-help/what-is-skydrive-pro-HA102822076.aspx. There’s still a lot of scope for improvement though. For instance, although you have an offline store synced to multiple document libraries all over SharePoint, how do you go about finding all the original library locations and figuring out how to send links instead of attachments. The last thing we want to do is send links directly to the offline folders on our laptops. Even worse, your team might revert back to sending the files as attachments instead of links! As an added challenge, how do you make sure that when you do finally send the right link, the recipients actually have access to the documents? The harmon.ie team has been really hard at work solving these problems to help you really unlock the power of SkyDrive Pro.

First up, you can see in the screenshot below that we’ve automatically added two new locations into the list of available sites in harmon.ie – your actual MySite SkyDrive storage location as well as a link to any existing local folders you might have configured to sync already.

Add locations in harmon.ie

Now, we know how much our customers already love how harmon.ie brings their sites and libraries right into Outlook, so we’ve made sure that you don’t need to go back to the browser in order to choose what you want to have available offline. To do this we’ve added a new button into the toolbar that lets you launch the SkyDrive Pro sync wizard directly, as you can see in the screenshots below.

Here you can see the new button that lets you sync a selected library (in this case we’re choosing to select our own SkyDrive MySite documents).

Sync selected library

It just takes a moment or two, and once the sync is set up, SkyDrive Pro quietly pulls down all your content in the background, ready for when you need it.

Your files are syncing as we speak.

When it’s done, you can see that the online SharePoint content is now mirrored locally, together with a new color-coded green check to show that all these files and subfolders are completely up to date with the server.

SharePoint content mirrored locally after sync

You can now carry on working exactly as you’ve always done with these sites and libraries in harmon.ie, knowing that when you do go offline you can read and even add, edit and delete documents on your local hard drive and have them magically sync up with SharePoint when you’re back online.

Even further, while the harmon.ie sidebar has always been great at helping you upload attachments and emails directly to SharePoint, sending links instead of attachments, and all the other features our users love, you can now do all that even while disconnected. Instead of selecting the regular SharePoint site you can instead choose one you’ve already configured to sync offline, and when you’re next connected SkyDrive Pro will handle uploading the changes for you in the background. Yup, that’s right - for the first time, you can work with the harmon.ie sidebar, dragging and dropping content to your heart’s content, even while offline!

Work offline with the harmon.ie sidebar

Finally, we’re addressing one of the biggest challenges with the SkyDrive Pro MySite storage. We discussed the ad-hoc sharing earlier and its main drawbacks are that you need to do it directly in the browser and, even worse, you have to do it one file at a time. harmon.ie 4.0 takes that pain away by allowing you to verify straight from within Outlook whether the selected recipients are actually going to have the correct access rights across all of target items and, if not, even granting them directly! Check out the screenshot below to see how this looks.

Share documents by selecting access rights for mail recipients

Here in the harmon.ie team we’re really excited about SkyDrive Pro and we think it’s going to make a big difference in enabling users to better transition their personal content to SharePoint and make it easier to work with, but we’re even more excited about how the upcoming harmon.ie 4.0 release brings SkyDrive Pro right into Outlook, even offline. Why don’t you give it a try by signing up for the harmon.ie 4.0 Beta Program.