Microsoft has launched a new version of its Windows Live SkyDrive website that is faster and easier to navigate thanks to the use of HTML5 and hardware acceleration. The new SkyDrive is rolling out gradually, as there are 100 million people who use the Web service according to Microsoft, so you may not have it yet.

In terms of performance, the software giant says it improved many core tasks and scenarios (clicking folders and navigating photo albums should go from 6-9 seconds down to 100-300 milliseconds) but it still plans to address additional core tasks in the future. The company also says it evaluated and removed anything that slowed the experience down or got in the way of a fast site.

As for easier navigation, Microsoft has reduced the entry points (skydrive.live.com, office.live.com, and photos.live.com) to just one place for your docs, files, and photos shared with you, as well as files in SkyDrive groups. The company also reduced the number of clicks required to get to a document or album, and removed ads to create room for a pane of info about your files. The new view makes the navigational elements and layout consistent with Windows. Microsoft does admit, however, that there are parts of the experience like creating a new album, uploading, renaming files, sharing, and editing permissions that still need a makeover.

For albums, the new mosaic layout displays your pictures in their original aspect ratio – SkyDrive creates thumbnails that reflect the way you took the picture (portrait, landscape, or panorama). Add to that infinite scrolling and accelerated graphics, and you get a fast and fluid experience. Last but not least, Microsoft now takes advantage of the HTML5 video tag to support playback of H.264 videos (up to 100 MB).

Microsoft has seriously improved the way SkyDrive works in the browser. Unfortunately, that is not where SkyDrive needs the most help. The service needs a dedicated application that integrates beautifully into Windows Explorer. Until then, SkyDrive will never be useful to me.