Hands-down, the best deal on the Web today is Microsoft’s SkyDrive combined with the free online version of its Office apps.
This package has been available to beta testers for a while, but Microsoft today opened it up to the general public (in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Ireland).
In returning for signing in to Microsoft’s Live service, you get 25 gigabytes of online storage — basically a hard drive in the cloud — where you can now create, edit, save and share Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files.
All for free, with no commitments or software to install.
It’s as easy, if not easier, than using Office on the desktop. To create a Word document, for instance, you click the big Word icon in your browser and start typing. The document is saved to SkyDrive and accessible from different computers.
If you own a recent version of Office, you can click the “Open in Word” button and the file you’ve been working with online opens up in your desktop application. No cutting and pasting or dragging, it just works (after you’ve entered your log in information).
You can work on the document on the desktop, hit save and it syncs with the online version — so the changes you made offline appear online as well.
Here’s a quick walk through. To create a document, click the Office icon that appears on your “SkyDrive desktop” (I added the blue arrow …):
Here’s the online version of Word in action:
If you click “share,” you get a great slider tool for setting permission (Facebook ought to license this interface …):
You’re also able to access them via smartphones, though the Android-based Evo I’m using froze when I tried to open a Web Word doc. First it said there were problems with the site’s security certificate, then I had to “force close” the operating system. Hmmm:
I had slightly better luck on the Windows Mobile 6.5-based HD2. I could get to the site but it was painful – every time I saved or did anything I had to install security certificates (why do I need “mktplassets-ssl.xbox.com, tiles” to run this?) and handling a document on the touchscreen was too tricky for me.
My quick take: It’s magic on the desktop but the mobile story is a work in progress. Maybe it needs Windows Phone 7.