Microsoft's been doing the cloud computing thing for decades: Hotmail (later Windows Live Hotmail, and now Outlook.com) was one of the first web-based email services, and Microsoft bought it back in 1997 when nobody really knew what cloud computing was. Its Azure platform powers many big businesses, and Xbox Live brought all kinds of entertainment to the Xbox.
When Google Docs first appeared, Microsoft didn't see it as a threat, but that belief has clearly changed: today, Microsoft offers a range of cloud-connected Office services including the online Office Web Apps (free for home and school users) and the subscription-based Office 365.
Like Google, Microsoft has been revising its various cloud offerings, so for example its Live Mesh file syncing service was retired earlier this year. File synchronisation is now handled by the soon-to-be-renamed SkyDrive.
Office on the go
SkyDrive is rather similar to Google Drive: you can use it to share and synchronise files between different devices, and you can create Word documents, Excel workbooks, PowerPoint presentations, OneNote notebooks and Excel surveys inside your browser. You get 7GB of storage, with additional space charged at £16 per year for 50GB and £32 per year for 100GB.
SkyDrive apps are available for Windows Vista onwards, for the Mac, for Windows Phone, Android and iOS, and like Google Drive there are also third-party apps that can use SkyDrive for synchronisation. Examples include sketching apps, document scanners, PDF managers, notepad apps and document signing apps.
When it comes to entertainment in the cloud, Microsoft's track record has been patchy: its MSN Music was relatively unsuccessful rival to Apple's iTunes and was shut down in 2006, and its next attempt was tied to the supposed iPod-killing Zune music player. Just to keep things nice and confusing, the latest incarnation is called Xbox Music even though it isn't limited to the Xbox.
Xbox Music works across multiple platforms: the web, Windows 8 and Windows RT, Windows Phone 8 and the Xbox 360. It's a Spotify-style streaming service with offline access, and it costs £8.99 per month or £89.90 for a year (plus the cost of an Xbox Live Gold account if you want to use the Xbox Music Pass on your games console).
There's also a companion service, Xbox Video, which offers movie rentals and purchases and which once again works on PCs and tablets (Windows 8 and Windows RT only) as well as on the Xbox. Unlike rivals there's no ebook service: Microsoft's e-reading offering, Reader, was canned in 2011.