Confusion reigns on using SkyDrive as data backup for Windows Phone

Backing up app data on SkyDrive--not cool with Microsoft?

An interesting controversy spring up over at the AppHub forums over the use of SkyDrive for backing up app data—not so much photos and documents (which is fine) but rather unintelligible files created by apps for app-specific data.

The crux of it was someone from the SkyDrive team made a comment that using SkyDrive for such a purpose goes against the user agreement for the API and it could result in the Windows Phone app being yanked from the Marketplace.

Justin Angel, Principal Engineer for Windows Phone experience at Nokia, fervently objected to this idea noting

“As SkyDrive API usage is not part of the Application Certification Guidelines I resent that team threatening app developers with expulsion from the marketplace for misuse of their API.”

It’s certainly a good point although we see the reasoning behind the SkyDrive team’s position. Luckily things are not as dire as expected.

First off, we get the idea of why the SkyDrive team is (or was) taking their position. In short, they don’t want you going to your SkyDrive and seeing it littered with new folders with odd data files in them that you can’t understand without the corresponding app. For instance, we love the app Rembereel which has a SkyDrive backup feature. It created a folder called ‘IsolatedStorageFolder’ with a text file called ‘remembeReel_movieBackup.txt’. Opening said document is just coding jargon and makes no sense to us but only to the app.

Granted, that’s one app. But what if we have 5 or 10 apps that did this to our SkyDrive folder? It’d soon look like going into C:\Windows with the “view all” Folder setting enabled. For the SkyDrive team, they want to keep it clean and simple—just Docs, Photos and media that users can move around and make sense of.

Can SkyDrive get messy? 

Of course the notion that the SkyDrive team should dictate to the Windows Phone Marketplace is also troubling and having apps removed for using this feature seems draconian.

Luckily, Dare Obasanjo who is the Senior Program Manager Lead, Live Platform Services group at Microsoft recently tweeted that in fact they won’t remove apps from the Marketplace that violate this policy. In other words they still recommend developers don’t use it for this feature but if they do, nothing will happen to them.

The bigger issue is what does Microsoft do in the long run? It’s true we don’t want our SkyDrive becoming populated with a bunch of folders and files that we can’t make sense of but on the other, having a method by which apps can back-up their data and settings seems logical.

Our solution would be to have a “hidden” section for apps that users can’t have direct access too without enabling an ‘Advanced’ mode. That way they can always delete the data manually but otherwise won’t see it day to day. Have a better idea? Want to weigh in on the problem? Hit us up in comments.

Source: AppHub, Twitter; via WMPU

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • Having a hidden "appdata" makes sense. Of course, with an option to manage the folders manually in the event a manual clean up is necessary.  If not then the app should at least allow you to specify the backup folder path on skydrive for those of us who keep things nice and organized.
  • +10 ;)
  • Just wish SkyDrive could back up game data.. Sucks getting a new phone and having to start over on some endurance achievements we get in some Xbox titles..
  • I wish that was a option too especially since glu latest two freenium games cause me to lose item or start over due to bugs issue
  • Agreed.
  • Does anyone know of a hack that would allow users to transfer app data over to new phones?
  • Rafael Rivera was working on a project, but I doubt he finished it.
  • Easy: SkyDrive/wpbackup/apps
    Just that. Or similar, putting files in the root though is no good.
  • i agree with this, just have a unified location and use the appID to distinguish between apps (just so apps don't start overwriting each other)
  • +1 its up to the developer, content could easily be encrypted too.
    The problem is that live SDK (that contains WP related libraries too) has a bugged SkyDrive upload component :[ progress event does not work correctly and a large file uploads never terminates or simply crashes....
  • +1
  • Dropbox maybe expensive but its dev friendly!
  • SkyDrive should have a section just for things like this.
  • Skydrive on Windows desktop tells me to relocate my windows folders into my space. My documents has all my pc game saves and cluttered so common MSFT get it together.
  • Yeah, don't you find it stupid that PC games (non Steam) put the saves in "C:\Users\Name\Documents\Game Name\" or worse, "appdata" folders. Instead of where they belong in "C:\Users\Name\Saved Games". Even on my windows 8 machine its this way. Absolute garbage. MS needs to enforce standards for game developers to have saved games put into that folder. I go to my documents folder and there is a folder for the Sims 3 and like 10 other games I don't even use the my documents folder for documents anymore, I use SkyDrive and the SkyDrive desktop app. But it's just a huge fuster cluck.
  • I somewhat agree. Even Steam should let me choose where my game saves go. I for one would put them my skydrive/gamesaves folder so all games, on all my devices are synced into the same spot.
  • doesn't steam sync the gamesaves online?
  • Not all games and its not easy to manage different saves if it's not in the game.
  • It's not Microsoft fault it's caused by developers.
  • Apps don't just need a place to backup days...the entire freaking phone does. I'm holding onto my old windows phone because there is data I cannot get off of there, which really such as resale value decreases with time.
  • I side with Microsoft on this. If they allow devs to store app data on SkyDrive on their discretion, soon (and I mean really soon) we will have the chaos that is "My documents" on Windows PC.
    Even there are special folders like "Saved games", developers think they should put their files on My documents.
    I hate the folder polution without any apparent reason. Microsoft should also take the SkyDrive approach to Windows 8 devs and not allow using PERSONAL folders for storing app data, unless they make it clear to the user and give him an option.
  • In Windows 8 there's a way for developers to store data locally and have it marked for syncing. that leaves the OS to sync your settings/data just like it syncs IE favorites and the OS personalization (desktop background etc.).  I'm assuming WP8 will get the same feature as well. Maybe even allowing you to easily sync any app between the win8 and WP8 versions.
  • Exactly. Problem solved.
  • Yup, skydrive should only be used for user content.
    I only have experience with Win8 so i don't know about WP7, but there is a great mechanism for doing this on Win8.
    This is a nice article on it:
    The "User data vs. app data" paragraph sums up the reasoning behind MS's stance.
    Now if WP7 does not provide this kind of functionality, them... they have a problem.
  • Microsofts' differentiation between User Data & App Data is grossly simplified. Yes, that's me in the comments on the linked blog post grousing at Microsoft's blinkered definition of "User Data".
    My WP7 app, iota (marketplace), is a note taking app. It is what's commonly referred to as a "shoebox app", it uses structured storage (SQL CE) to store, collate & index notes & the images user clip to their notes from the camera or their picture library are stored locally with the store.
    All the content stored in iota is objectively user data. However with Windows 8, Microsoft insists that because the data is not stored in a document it's not User Data. Apparently I'm supposed to write a cloud service on Azure (not cheap) to enable something that would just work if I could save into a location backed up by SkyDrive.
    How would I solve the problem? Add a "storage" settings page that lists the apps, the storage they're using & a simple switch to enable / disable the app storage being backed up to SkyDrive. If enabled the app data area is symlinked into a Skydrive folder hierarchy, if disabled the symlink is removed. Simple.
  • Windows 8's App Roaming data is limited to 100Kb. It's for app settings only.
  • I think another possible reason for not allowing this kind of app access could be to keep bandwidth and connections down. A bit of app data might not much by itself, but if a lot of apps were to auto-backup frequently it could add up on the running costs.
  • They can resolve this whole mess with something as simple as an "AppData" (or something similar) folder that all applications are required to use. This can also be hidden as the article suggests with an option o make it visible. I just wish they had all this stuff sorted out before Windows 8 and WP8 are released. It almost seems like they're 2%-ing all this integration. :(
  • Skydrive is fine the way it is. devs should look for a better backup solution, if not... just dont make a backup option in their app.
    skydrive storage isn't infinite and if you add space to 7gb (or 25gb for older users) you have to pay annually. so if you have skydrive full? no backup then?
    i really dont understand why people want to have their skydrive with crappy files and folders with weird names all over the place. of course if anyone like how My documents look with all the crap some games and aplications install or programdata, or users/local-roaming, etc. its anyones problem, to each its own, but i dont want my skydrive to become a messy place only because i want my games and apps backup but lazy developers want the free easy thing, and because they cant look for a better backup solution.
    I mean its Microsoft we are talking about, they should do everything easy and simple to use, something that will look nice and people will trust. and now some devs want to use it as a backup service and make everything complicated and hidden folders and such? oh god... skydrive is meant to be used for personal files, not for backup the apps i want to be back
    but thats my opinion. i just want everything from microsoft to be clean and simple. not get messy and complicated and "advanced mode" stuff anymore.
  • Dude, that's exactly what advanced modes are there for. To make it simple for people like you and give control to people like me. It's a solution where MS doesn't alienate either party.
    And actually I like it simple too, that why I want a centralized cloud space for ANY kind of backup, be it personal files or app backups. Would be a hassle to have personal files on skydrive, app backups on dropbox and desktop backups on yet another service.
    skydrive is a cloud service, and the could is not meant for personal files only. Data in the could is redundantly stored on multiple servers, which makes it perfect for any kind of backup.
  • Like in Windows, have a "hidden" program folder that everything points at? May be the old way but almost everybody knows how that works. As one someone that uses SkyDrive a lot, I must say its darn annoying with remembereel, and lets not forget Handyscan that makes 2 folders if I remember correctly. Anyway, all these folders makes me feel dirty :-D
  • Why did you use Ubuntu?
  • They would also need to make an API for the backup function. Else, lazy developers would still save the files anywhere they want without caring about what other developers had done or what Microsoft suggested.
  • To write a generic routine that transfer isolated storage to Skydrive is a trivial task, if you don't have big files you are safe ;)
  • I just pulled the SkyDrive backup feature from my beta of Pianist Music studio. After reading this im still unsure whether or not to put it back.
  • WinRT (and wp8 ?) solves this issue with the roaming folders, totally transparent to the developer :)
    Currently a quick solution is to use Azure Storage, cheap but not free...
  • On a side note, when windows 8 goes gold, when a game comes out on the marketplace lets say "Call of duty 8" with achievements and cross platform to "nextbox 720" play, do u think it should show up as a tile on the start screen like games currently do or should u have to go in the "games hub" like on windows phone 7.x currently has it. With the option of pinning a game u may want. Because isn't the way it is now, if you unpin something from the windows 8 start screen you are removing it.
  • Unpinning does not uninstall. It just removes the tile.
  • You can pin games in WP7 and if you unpin a tile in Win8 it won't uninstall, but there is also option for uninstallation.
  • How many apps cam will install on out phones, and how many of those will need to backup, or store some arbitrary data that needs to be stored outside the phone. ...not very many, so I think it's ridiculous that this is even an issue.
  • I think it's a non issue, I like SkyDrive backup, or, dropbox backup....clutter away...
  • Maybe it's the contrast on my phone display, but that picture makes me really want a yellow Lumia :)
    I like the idea of hidden app folders.
  • Or have an intelligent web accessible system similar to a registry. All apps would already be known and registered in the cloud. I could access and view all info and delete when I want.
    Random files on SkyDrive seems to be a dirty idea.
  • Make it an option to do exactly what was suggested per app. Have a setting in the Applications for switches to turn on and off app access too backup data to Skydrive to an appfolder dedicated to just this. Make it accessible to that in Windows 8 so similar developed applications can share data. Think of a news reader that is able to use the same common feed that a user has, that would be nice. Or a game that transitions from mobile to Windows 8 to Xbox. Microsoft all the resources to make a unified experience, but they are waiting for Apple or Google to do it first...
  • I found a new empty folder in my Skydrive yesterday called 'Documents'. I didn't create it, and I never save files in a folder called 'Documents' because its a stupid name for a folder. Calling a folder 'Documents' is about as useful as calling it 'Folder for Files'.
    Anyway, I finally tracked down the source of the folder: Microsoft Office 2013 Preview. Hook it up to Skydrive and it'll create at least one folder that you didn't want.
    I don't see how a WP7 app creating a folder is any different than Office creating a folder.
  • Why are we wasting electrons on whether Apps would be able to backup to SkyDrive when the REAL question is why can't we back up our phones!
  • Can someone please set a list of which apps are using backup to SkyDrive as of now please?
  • This is eaxctly why for my app I'm storing game back ups on Azure. I think it's a small price to pay for the benefit of the users
  • This what Windows Azure is for and the method by which app data can by synched between phones, tablets and PC's. Skydrive is for your personal documents and not desgned for app specific data storage. I would hate to see it littered with app data or even worth accidentaly delete it.
  • There is always Dropbox
  • I hope they figure it out soon, with WP8 coming there will be customers looking to migrate data from apps and games over to prevent starting from scratch. Especially on taptitude, I would hate to see all my progress lost!
  • SkyDrive as app backup is a must have going forward. A hidden file folder is the obvious win win for all parties, but an app data folder would also be just fine.