You might have heard mention of ‘cloud storage’ but be utterly mystified by what it is or why it might be useful to you.
Basically, cloud storage lets you store personal files and folders on the internet, rather than on an individual PC, tablet or smartphone. You can also use cloud-storage services to synchronise stuff across your various computers and devices – something that can be very convenient.
Microsoft’s cloud-storage service is called SkyDrive. It’s free to use and comes with a generous 7GB of storage thrown in, although you can buy more if you want.
If you’ve upgraded to Windows 8.1, you’ll find that SkyDrive is now built in but if not, it’s easy enough to set up and use. Either way, we’ll tell you what to do.
Read more about Cloud computing and the cloud.
Step 1: Download and install SkyDrive
If you have recently upgraded to Windows 8.1 then you don’t need to install SkyDrive, as it is now built in to the operating system – so rejoin us at step 7.
If you use Windows 7, Vista or 8 then visit Microsoft’s SkyDrive download page and scroll down the page to find and click the blue Download the desktop app icon.
Locate and double-click the downloaded file and then work through the prompts to install SkyDrive. If the User Account Control dialogue box appears, click Yes to allow the installation to proceed.
Step 2: Sign in with a Microsoft account
Use of SkyDrive requires a Microsoft account, so at this point you’ll be asked to sign in.
If you have an email address ending in ‘hotmail.com’, ‘live.com’ or ‘outlook.com’ then you already have a Microsoft account – so when prompted, use these credentials.
Otherwise, click the Sign up now link and follow the instructions to create a Microsoft account.
Step 3: Choose a folder for SkyDrive
During installation, SkyDrive will suggest a folder for files you’d like to store and synchronise via SkyDrive.
If you’re not happy with the displayed default location, click the Change button and select a different folder. Otherwise, click Next.
Step 4: Choose what to synchronise
By default, everything stored in the folder chosen in the previous step will be synchronised
Therefore, files or subfolders placed in your SkyDrive folder will be saved to the cloud (internet-hosted) version of SkyDrive and also synchronised to any other devices on which you install and use SkyDrive.
If you’re happy with this, click Next. Otherwise, select the ‘Choose folders to sync’ radio button and then tick or clear checkboxes to indicate which subfolders to synchronise – then click Next.
Step 5: Enable or disable Fetch
SkyDrive has a handy feature called Fetch that allows you to grab files from a computer even if they’re not stored in the SkyDrive folder (though this feature has been disabled in Windows 8.1).
If you’d like to use this, ensure that the ‘Let me use SkyDrive to fetch any of my files on this PC’ box is ticked. Click Done.
Step 6: Start synchronising
SkyDrive is now set up – and there’s nothing else required in order to start using it.
To try it out, launch Windows Explorer (by holding down the Windows key and tapping E) and drag and drop some files into your SkyDrive folder.
Now look at the Notification Area at the far right of the Windows Taskbar (the long strip that runs alongside the Start button, at the bottom of the Windows Desktop) - you should see a small double-cloud icon.
When SkyDrive is busy uploading or downloading files (ie, synchronising), then a small green bar will animate below this double-cloud icon. Hover your mouse pointer over this icon to see what’s happening.
Step 7: SkyDrive in Windows 8.1
SkyDrive is now an integral part of Windows 8.1, so you’ll find it as an app on the new-style Start screen and also as an entry in File Explorer (the new name for Windows Explorer).
It is probably easiest to use and manage from File Explorer. To launch this, type ‘File Explorer’ from the Start screen and press Enter; or click the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar on the Windows Desktop.
Click the SkyDrive entry in the left-hand navigation pane to open your SkyDrive folder.
Step 8: Manage SkyDrive’s options
Windows 8.1 users have very little control over SkyDrive because it is deeply integrated into the operating systems (there are ways to disable it but the method is complicated, and thus for a later tutorial).
If you use Windows 8.1, launch the SkyDrive app from the Start screen, then option the Charms bar (hold down the Windows key and tap C) and click Settings followed by Options.
The sole option is the ability to be able to access all SkyDrive files offline. This is useful for times when your internet connection is down, so we’d advise switching it to the On position.
Users of the desktop app downloaded and installed in Step 1 have more flexibility, including the ability to choose which folders are synchronised.
To access these options, right-click the double-cloud icon in the Notification Area and choose Settings.
Step 9: Visit SkyDrive.com
Finally, for more options – or to buy more cloud-storage space – visit the SkyDrive website and log in.
From here, you can view all your files in the web browser and even edit documents, using the web versions of Microsoft Office.
To manage your storage, click the cog icon at the top right and choose Options.