Hands-On with iCloud for Windows 10

Posted on June 12, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Cloud, Windows 10 with 21 Comments

Yesterday, Microsoft announced the release of iCloud for Windows 10 in the Microsoft Store. Big deal, right? Well, there is one surprise: This version of the app differs from the normal web-based download in that it supports the same underlying sync technology as OneDrive’s Files On-Demand.

This is, I believe, a first. And I’m curious now whether other cloud-based storage vendors—Dropbox, Box, and so on—will adopt this technology in Windows 10 as well. We’ll see what happens. But for now, both OneDrive and iCloud, as weird as that sounds, offer first-class, reliable cloud/desktop sync capabilities in Windows 10. And that is a big deal.

For those unfamiliar, iCloud is Apple’s cloud storage service. It’s not particularly affordable compared to other services—users get 5 GB of storage for free, but 50 GB is $1 per month, 200 GB is $3 per month, and 2 TB is $10 per month, and there are no annual plans—but it’s hard to argue with the scope and functionality it provides. iCloud is the go-to for hundreds of millions of iPhone, iPad, and Mac users, and it provides document and photo storage, deep Apple app integration, messages sync, backup and restore, and more.

This functionality is obviously built-in to Apple’s own platforms, but it provides a separate and less well understood iCloud client for Windows 7, 8.x, and 10. It works as you’d expect, though some Apple ecosystem-specific functionality, like text message sync and Apple app integration is notably but understandably absent.

What you do get is iCloud Drive (documents and other files); Photos; Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Tasks (via Microsoft Outlook only); and browser bookmarks (from Safari to IE, Firefox, or Chrome) sync. You can choose which of these items to sync using the app, which is implemented as a control panel. Yep, it’s that old.

I don’t normally use iCloud, especially on Windows, but I did install the new Windows 10 iCloud app to see what document and file sync is like. It works as you’d expect: An iCloud Drive item appears in the File Explorer navigation pane, as one does for OneDrive, and you can browse through the folders and files it contains normally.

By default, these files and folders are “Available when online,” meaning that what you’re seeing are placeholders. If you open a document or other file, it downloads and becomes “Available on this device.”

But you can also mark a folder or file so that it is always available on the PC: Just right-click it and choose “Always keep on this device.”

So, yes, this works exactly as it does for OneDrive. This is a huge win for those who rely on iCloud for their iPhones and iPads but also use Windows 10. I have to think there are hundreds of millions of people like that.

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