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How SkyShellEx makes the SkyDrive cloud desktop client easier to use

If you're looking for a simple way to expand the Microsoft SkyDrive syncing service, Jack Wallen says your best bet is to use the SkyShellEx user friendly app.

Cloud storage, and the ability to sync that storage to the desktop, makes professional and personal life so much easier. Not only do these services give you instant access to data on a remote machine, they let you access that data from any machine connected to the account. For many IT pros, the de facto standard has become Dropbox, but there are plenty of options out there.

If you're a fan of Microsoft products, you might be familiar with SkyDrive. SkyDrive is a rebrand of Windows Live Folders and is now focused on matching Windows 8's user interface. This doesn't mean the cloud service will not work with earlier iterations of Windows; in fact, I have tested SkyDrive on Windows XP and Windows 7 with stellar results.

There are two types of cloud sync desktop applications: those that work with a "root" folder, and those that do not work with a "root" folder. Cloud services that work with a "root" folder basically sync the contents of that "root" folder and nothing more. Cloud services that work without a "root" folder are capable of syncing folders from pretty much anywhere on the desktop. SkyDrive is a "root" folder sync service. If you're creative enough, you could create symbolic links from within the "root" folder that point to folders outside the sync folder, but I don't think most users will want to tackle that process.

You can get around this little SkyDrive limitation by installing and using SkyShellEx. This tiny shell extension allows you to quickly create those symbolic links from the right-click context menu in Explorer. SkyShellEx is available for Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 in 32- and 64-bit versions. Outside of a SkyDrive account, the only requirement is .NET 4. The one caveat to SkyShellEx is that it's an "as is" software — there is no support.

You must have a SkyDrive account — this includes having the SkyDrive desktop client installed. During the installation of that application, you will be prompted to enter your SkyDrive credentials. You will also be prompted for what you want to sync. You have two choices (Figure A):
  • All Files And Folders On My SkyDrive
  • Choose Folders To Sync
Figure A

If you have a large amount of files, you might need to pick and choose what is syncd.
Note: With SkyDrive, you cannot sync folders that are shared. In fact, if you force that issue, those shares will be broken.

After you select what to sync, the client will be installed, and you will see a small cloud icon in your system tray. Right-click that icon and select Settings.

With SkyDrive properly installed, you can install the shell extension. Download the installer file and, once the download is complete, double-click the file to begin the installer wizard. With the installation complete, close out all Explorer windows and then reopen Explorer. Navigate to a folder you want to include in your SkyDrive sync and right-click that folder. The context menu should appear with a new entry: Sync To SkyDrive (Figure B). Figure B

This is a much easier way to create symbolic links.

Select the Sync To SkyDrive option and the symbolic link will be created, connecting a folder outside of the SkyDrive "root." You can include as many folders as you need, as long as you don't go over your data limit on your SkyDrive plan.

If you want to stop syncing a folder with SkyDrive, follow these steps:

  1. Open Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the parent directory that contains the folder to be disconnected.
  3. Right-click that folder and select Stop Syncing To SkyDrive.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a simple way to expand the Microsoft SkyDrive syncing service outside of the standard issue C:\Users\USERNAME\SkyDrive folder, you will not find an easier way to do so than with SkyShellEx. Instead of spending time learning how to create symbolic links within your Windows directory hierarchy, you can install this user-friendly app and make adding new folders to SkyDrive's sync a simple right-click.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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