Up until now, Microsoft's SkyDrive has mostly been noteworthy for the staggering amount of free storage it offers to users (25GB) and little else. But with the introduction of Windows 8, it will acquire a whole new set of features, along with the new Metro UI, which they believe will make it much more integral to users.
The cosmetic makeover that SkyDrive will receive is the most immediate and noticeable change here. Mike Torres and Omar Shahine, Microsoft's SkyDrive bosses, say the goal was to make the UI fast and fluid, but most of all touch-friendly. But as you can also see, SkyDrive is much more visual now. That means thumbnails of photos and icons for app-specific documents whenever possible, and ultimately, it means a more inviting UI for less-advanced users.
The bigger change, however, lies under the surface. SkyDrive will seamlessly integrate with every Metro app via Windows 8's file picker. In theory, saving things do and from SkyDrive will be as easy as saving locally in the Metro/WinRT environment. And if you're trying to do something like email an attachment that's already on SkyDrive, you'll be able to include a link to the file in your message instead of uploading and sending the whole file.
The more traditional desktop functionality currently found in SkyDrive will also remain, which means folders that automatically sync and being able to use Windows Explorer to cut through swaths of files. But a there are two big improvements: the first is that SkyDrive will be supporting files that are up to 2GB in size, which is awesome for those messing with video files, or trying to back up a rather large app. The second is that you will be able to connect your home computer to Skydrive and access it remotely from anywhere you have browser and an internet connection. With that functionality, you won't feel the need to upload every single file to the cloud, but rather you can add the ones you'll use most frequently for quicker downloads, but still know you can get to whatever you need at any time.
This makes SkyDrive a much different beast than iCloud. iCloud attempts to automate various backup processes and give you access to files expressly through apps (think iTunes in the Cloud or iWork). You can't view files using any sort of browser/explorer. But it will keep your calendar and email synced up, and all your smartphone settings backed up without you having to do a thing.
SkyDrive, on the other hand, is more concerned with making it easier to use the cloud like a local drive. A very visual and touch-friendly drive. And sure, Dropbox does some of the same things, but because Microsoft has their own operating system, the experience can be much more seamless than anything Dropbox might offer. Hopefully SkyDrive will be ready to go when the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Drops next week.