Windows Live is no more. Long live Microsoft Account.
There's almost no way around the cloud in Windows 8. During custom setup, users are all but forced to sign in or register for a Microsoft account. Once you've done that, you can gradually sign on to several cloud-connected services:
SkyDrive access: The SkyDrive app gives you instant access to your online account. You can browse through your folder and open files. (Windows 8 automatically launches the appropriate app, for example the new Microsoft Reader for PDF documents.) Unfortunately, there's no way to create, upload or delete folders, though I believe that this will be fixed in the upcoming month -- remember, Sinofsky promised to update the Consumer Preview and its apps regularly.
User Account Synchronization: The new Metro-style control panel allows you to take most local user account data and moves it to the cloud. The moment you sign in on another PC (say, another laptop), you'll have most of your settings right in front of you. This includes personal settings such as the desktop wallpaper, profile picture and lock screen. If you've set up "Ease of Use", all contrast and color settings are also automatically synced.
App settings, browser settings, favorites and a variety of Windows settings are also saved and synced back to whatever account you log on to. Over the past few days, I've installed Windows 8 Consumer Preview on several machines and was pretty happy to save myself the trouble of configuring every PC and laptop individually. What's missing is the ability to automatically sync back files (such as important documents or a handful of photos) from one account to another.
App integration: All apps that are capable of opening or saving files have access to the SkyDrive. The photos app, for example, includes your SkyDrive pictures folder (as well as Facebook and Flickr integration).
But the cloud doesn't just take place on the Metro-style Start Screen. Microsoft promised to integrate the SkyDrive folder directly into Windows Explorer. Here's screenshot from Microsoft's Engineering 8 blog:
Looks eerily like Dropbox, right?
Overall, Windows 8 SkyDrive integration seems like a winner -- even in its early preview. It's built right into the OS and it just works. And while power users can (and will) consider other cloud solutions, the novice will likely not even bother and just use SkyDrive. Plus, not a lot of cloud storage services offer 25 GB for free. And rumor has it that Microsoft will offer paid upgrades, up until 125 GB.