Microsoft's Windows Live suite offers users a variety of fun tools for blogging, instant messaging, and editing photos and video, but one of the most useful features across the board is Windows Live Sync (formerly known as Windows Live FolderShare). This cloud-based syncing application lets you access important files located on any Mac or PC on which you have the software installed, eliminating the need for USB keys or e-mailing files to yourself. We're fans of the near-unlimited storage space and very cool remote access feature, but the lack of file revisions and Linux support keeps it from overthrowing rivals like Dropbox.
Installation, Pricing, and Capacity
Installing Windows Live Sync onto a Gateway P-7808u FX notebook was a simple affair. After downloading the application and signing in with our Windows Live ID, we selected the folders on the laptop that we wanted to sync. Unlike Dropbox, we weren't presented with various price and capacity options, as Microsoft hasn't implemented the traditional file restraints. You can sync up to 20 folders with a maximum of 20,000 files each (each file has a 4GB cap), which means you can conceivably sync 1562.5 terabytes--far more data than Dropbox's 100GB maximum capacity.
As Windows Live Sync is tightly woven into Windows' file structure, files that exist in the various folders (My Documents, My Music, My Photos) are synced with a single click; you don't have to move them to a dedicated folder (as Dropbox requires). The benefit is that you don't have to migrate files to a new folder, but the drawback is that files aren't as centralized as Dropbox.
File Sync and Remote Backup
We were able to access files stored on one notebook from an Acer Aspire One by simply repeating the installation process. A 4.97GB folder of mixed media that was dropped into the My Pictures folder synced in 9 hours and 49 minutes, which was slightly swifter than Dropbox's 9 hours and 53 minutes. We also had no problem accessing documents and photos from a Mac mini (though we had to manually associate OS X's folders with Windows, which only took a few seconds), but Linux users may be disappointed that the Penguin has been slighted. If you're a Windows Photo Gallery user, you can use Live Sync to sync photos and video across your computers.
As with Dropbox, clicking the icon in the taskbar opened a small menu that presented us with the option to visit Windows Live Sync's Web site, where we were able to manage folders, grant permissions, and view the other computers that had the software installed. Selecting More allowed us, from our home, to access the remote access feature (note that this is off by default). This let us poke around a Dell desktop back in the office, on which we had installed Windows Live Sync. We selected the PC from the list of synced computers at sync.live.com, clicked Browse, and then selected either a folder or drive. By clicking the C drive, we were able to download a 114MB video clip from our office PC's desktop in 4 minutes and 51 seconds, which was on a par with Dropbox's 4:59 transfer time for the same file.
Windows Live Sync lacks one of Dropbox's better features: file revisions. If you need to return to a previous version of a file, there's no method to do so. In addition, Windows Live Sync isn't quite as streamlined; for example, the taskbar menu has a separate listing for each folder. That's the direct opposite of Dropbox, which syncs everything dropped into its dedicated folder (creating subfolders for documents and photos is optional).
There's a lot to like in Windows Live Sync. The remote access feature is one that may appeal to the business set more than any other, and is one that we'd love to see implemented into Dropbox. The lack of Linux support and file revisions may be a dealbreaker for some, but the large amount of free storage makes this service quite a compelling option.