I have updated this blog after a week or two of trying to understand the problems of using Skydrive – the comments that are most recent are marked ADDENDUM:
I have used Windows Live Mesh to synchronise my laptops and PC for a few years now, and I have even used Mesh to distribute science notes in our lab environment. However, recently Microsoft announced the removal of Mesh from Windows Live utilities. Their suggestion is to replace Mesh by Skydrive and a recent update to the Skydrive application for PCs allowed selection of files to synchronise, but will it accomplish the same tasks as Mesh, will it work?
I hope this blog might answer those questions and provide an insight into the problems that occur. First, let me explain what I want to do and how well that worked with Mesh. I have two laptops (mine and my wife’s) and a PC that we both use. What I want is to ensure that specific folders are the same on all three computers and to back these up to an external source (I used Carbonite until the change to Skydrive was announced). Mesh was installed on all three computers and you could choose specific folders that would be synchronised between computers (there was also a small space on the Mesh servers to store some files). You could also share these folders with another person, who had to sign into Mesh, and they would be shared and synchronised when they were signed in. But, there were two major problems:
- Outlook – the data file for the email program Outlook could not be synchronised by Mesh and so emails were only accessible on one computer, which was our individual laptops.
- Special folders – Pictures, Videos, Downloads and My Documents are special folders in Windows and synchronizing these on one shared PC was a major problem.
What happened when trying to synchronise these folders and sharing them, was a new folder was created with the first letter missing – “My Documents” became “y Documents”!
Although this was messy I was able to synchronise files and have all the computers identical. I was even able to synchronise some files that were not simple documents files such as Favourites and Office Templates.
The Skydrive application, installed on a PC is meant to replace Mesh. You can upload all of your files to the Skydrive server (purchasing extra space as required) and then link to them by means of the Skydrive application, selecting which folders to synchronise. However, all the folders must be within a specially created “Skydrive” folder, but you can at least determine the initial location of that folder. Sadly, that means folders such as Favourites are not synchronised, so already a major difference from Mesh.
So, how did this work for me? Well, first of all it took a long time to have all my files upload to the Skydrive server (about two weeks for 80 Gb), I also uploaded some folders that would not be synchronised, just to store them. Then I had to create a Skydrive folder on each PC, but deselect all folders at first. Then I moved all files/folders into the Skydrive folder on each PC (this was to be quicker than waiting for downloads. On the PC I also allowed sharing of all of these folders with my wife’s account on that computer. I then had to ensure all Libraries pointed to the new location (e.g. Pictures, Videos etc) and that links to these files worked. Then I enabled synchronisation of specific folders via the Skydrive application.
Copying the files to the Skydrive folder was meant to save a lot of download time, but, unlike Mesh, the policy for avoiding overwriting is not clear for Skydrive and what I quickly discovered was that the files already on the laptop (the computer is called Portege) were renamed with “-Portege” appended to the filename. This meant my hard drive quickly filled up with duplicates and some files (such as outlook.pst needed to be renamed to avoid being out of date! This is not a great feature of Skydrive and Microsoft need to think about their synchronisation/duplication policy.
All seemed well until I started to use the PC, my first problem arose when I tried to open Outlook – I pointed the program at the new location for my PST files, which opened fine and seemed well, but after signing my wife on to do the same, a problem arose on my desktop, I was unable to open Outlook as I was not allowed access to my PST file! I checked the sharing setting and that indicated I was the owner and it was shared with my wife! A mystery that was solved when I used the properties tab of the file to enable Home Users full access. But, why am I not able to open a file I am owner of?
This problem of Administration of a shared computer has turned out to be more than just a bug bear, but in fact, a major issue! I am not sure I really understand the real nature of the problem, but I will summarise what I think is happening.
It seems to me that when you first set up a shared computer the first owner, who automatically is classed as an Administrator, has a different set of ownership rights over files. So when I set up my account on my wife’s PC and created a Skydrive account, I ran into issues of file ownership that I was not expecting. In fact, I quickly discovered that Skydrive was not synching on my desktop and that I could not open my online account. However, when I created the Skydrive account (using my login details) within my wife’s account not only could I access my online files, but the Skydrive folders were now synching. As a consequence I have closed the Skydrive application within my account on this shared PC! Not a very satisfactory solution to be honest, which also relates to the fact that Mesh allowed sharing of files that could also be downloaded automatically, but Skydrive shares the files online only – they cannot be synched unless you have the Skydrive account working!
A few weeks later, now, I have all the files synchronised, but I cannot open the online Skydrive from my account on this shared computer, only when logged on as my wife can I access the online files – something of a nuisance! I also found that Media Player would not load the music files in the shared Library until I enabled as an administrator and asked it to restore the library – it seems okay now. Finally, I find that many programs, that need access to the shared folders (e.g. Internet Explorer for picture saving) need to be run as an administrator, even though I have administrator rights for my account – this issue is much more complex than it seems! Recently, I have found a better solution to this problem and that is to go to the root folder of each synchronised folder, open properties and then Security and then use the edit button to add the other user’s name to the list of names allowed full rights. This seems to solve the sharing problems.
The problem of not being able to open the online Skydrive account is interesting and I tried to find out more about it recently. What happens is that instead of opening the list of folders when you sign into your Skydrive account, the IE page cycles or repeats trying to load. I discovered a forum description of this that said you should check the privacy setting for Internet Explorer to make sure live.com is not one of the trusted sites. I checked this and I had indeed added live.com to the trusted site list and when I removed it the online folders opened as expected!
This ownership problem was repeated for a number of files I needed to access – one was an MNY file I use with MSMoney to keep my accounts – one common denominator seems to be the files autosave.
So, I am now waiting to see what problems we run into and to see if I can understand the nature of these problem. What is my conclusion?
- Skydrive ONLY allows synchronisation of folders within the created Skydrive-folder, which means any system files cannot be synchronised; whereas, Mesh allowed favorites and Office Templates to be synchronised, but this is not now possible.
- Skydrive duplicates existing files to avoid overwriting, so care must be taken about loading files into the Skydrive folder, this is best done from the online source either manually or automatically using synchronisation, rather than copying them across folders on the computer.
- Sharing files that are to be synchronised presents some issues, especially with key folders such as the default Pictures, Videos and My Documents folders that have to be moved to the Skydrive folder. However, this was also a problem with Mesh.
- Administrator rights influence how Skydrive works on a shared computer and this situation is complex – the best solution is that the computer owner (first user) should install Skydrive and synchronise files that are the shared to other user, but there may still be problems.
- Uploading is fairly slow and the system does not synchronise as fast as Mesh.
Therefore, my overall feeling is that this system is neither as good nor as versatile as Mesh and Microsoft will have to rethink how this works for it to solve the problem of synchronizing computers, especially computers with shared accounts.