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Microsoft may be best known for their traditional software like Windows and Office, but they’re also behind some of the best known web apps of the recent past. Most of us got our first email address with Hotmail and chatted endlessly with MSN Messenger. Hotmail lives on as Outlook.com, while MSN Messenger has been replace by Skype. But OneDrive has an easy case for being the most interesting web app Microsoft offers today.
OneDrive’s already had a long and interesting life that started before Dropbox was even conceived. It was originally called FolderShare, based on software Microsoft purchased in 2005 to sync folders between computers. Later, it gained online storage capabilities as a part of Windows Live Mesh, which later still were folded into SkyDrive and was then rebranded as OneDrive a few years later.
All along, the same idea has been at play: a simple way to get your files wherever you are. In 2005, that’d mean making sure your files were synced between your computers, but today, that means having your files on all of your computers, smartphones, and tablets, as well as accessible on the web. OneDrive offers all of that, with 15GB of free online storage that you can selectively sync to your computers.
On Windows 8, OneDrive stands out from the competition with its deep integration into your computer. All of your files on OneDrive automatically show up in your computer, ready for you to find via search and open in any app—but they’re not actually downloaded until you need them or choose to sync them. That helps you save space on your computer, and makes it incredibly quick to setup a new computer with your files.
OneDrive is also deeply integrated in the latest versions of Microsoft Office, where you can open files from OneDrive and save them to OneDrive directly from the apps’ save buttons, even if you don’t have OneDrive setup on your computer. If you subscribe to Office 365—which gives you the full copies of Office on your PC, Mac, or tablet—you’ll get 1TB of OneDrive storage space included. If you need to use Office anyhow, that makes OneDrive even more appealing since most other storage services cost as much as Office 365 just for online storage.
But then, OneDrive also gives you a way to use Microsoft Office for free. Microsoft has made basic web app copies of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that you can use online for free from Office.com or from inside OneDrive. You can edit any existing documents you have online, or create new documents with basic Office features, for free. The Office web apps contain similar features to Google Docs, but in the familiar Microsoft Office interface, so they’re a great option if you’ve wanted to edit documents online or get Microsoft Office for free. They also give you a bit of extra protection, with version history for your documents so you can recover text and content you’ve accidentally deleted.
It’s not just about Office, though. OneDrive also has great photo support. It displays your photo metadata prominently in a sidebar when you view individual pictures, and let you share your photos in rather nice online albums. That gives you another way to put your OneDrive storage space to good use. And, of course, there’s still the file and folder sharing features you’d expect from other services.
If you’re not quite satisfied by what Dropbox and Google Drive offer, OneDrive might be the online storage service for you. It’s got real Office integration, great photo support, and cheaper plans that likely fit the amount of files you really need to sync.