Microsoft Aims to Lasso Everything With Live Mesh

Microsoft unveiled a new service Tuesday that will take the software maker into the realm of cloud computing. Currently available as an invite-only beta, Live Mesh will initially enable users to share files and synchronize folders across multiple PCs. Support for Windows Mobile and Mac OS X is coming later in the year, the company said.

“Live Mesh enables your devices to work together and allows you to add and sync files and folders across your mesh of devices,” said Amit Mital, general manager of Live Mesh, on the service’s blog.

Multiple Devices, One Universe

In the works for the past two years, the Live Mesh platform will offer a variety of core services using the Live Mesh API (application programming interface) such as online and offline storage, synchronization, peer-to-peer communication and newsfeeds.

With Live Mesh, users essentially create a virtual online desktop through which they can share selected files such as documents, music, photos and videos on different devices. Users receive a continuously updated feed on the details of shared content and who has accessed it. The service also offers remote access to connected computers and devices.

The service, according to Mike Zintel, product unit manager of Mesh at Microsoft, has been designed with the goal of enabling explicit control over the location and custody of data even in a sharing environment.

“Mesh object — files, lists, etc. and associated information — are physically stored in a Live Mesh storage server and exposed as authenticated feeds. This storage and feed architecture supports a completely enterprise-scoped sharing across all tiers: PC, intranet browser and mobile in addition to home — home and home-work scenarios,” he said.

Future Mesh

While PC-to-PC synchronization is available now, the service will eventually encompass a multitude of devices including, the Xbox video game console, the Zune personal media player, digital video recorders, digital photo frames and printers, Microsoft said.

Achieving that vision of a multi-device platform is essential for the success of Live Mesh but could also prove extremely difficult, said Jeffrey Hammonds, a Forrester Research analyst.

“It’s an appealing idea, and from a technology point, Microsoft certainly had access to many of the devices in my own personal mesh. That said, there are all kinds of content and DRM (digital rights management) issues to be worked out even as the technical details are put into place, and those issues may stymie the progress of the mesh,” he told TechNewsWorld.

For example, what if a subscriber wants to record high-definition content and view it anywhere on their personal mesh? That’s a problem it will be tough for Microsoft to solve today, according to Hammond.

The biggest pitfall Microsoft faces is that the mesh will apply to only their products and operating systems.

“At home we’re a five PC, four iPod family with multiple cell phone types and gaming consoles. I only want one mesh, not a Microsoft mesh and an ‘Everything Else’ mesh,” he pointed out.

Wizard of Oz

Live Mesh is a strategic initiative that combines several previously failed efforts from Microsoft, Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner, told TechNewsWorld. They have been added to Microsoft’s technology portfolio over the past few years but have had little impact in the past.

“Things like Hailstorm that had some identity management capabilities. There’s Groove network technology Microsoft acquired. There’s P2P (peer-to-peer) replication technology and a very narrow scope technology called ‘Simple Sharing Extensions,’ which was making RSS (really simple syndication) a two-way protocol,” he told TechNewsWorld.

For Ray Ozzie, chief software architect at Microsoft, Live Mesh represents an evolution at the company triggered by the “Web-catalyzed services transformations” that continue to be the source of great change in the software industry.

“More than two years ago, when I wrote the memo entitled ‘The Internet Service Disruption,’ much of the company was still focused on bringing our Office 2007 and Vista products to market. Aside from MSN, IE/IIS and our tools groups, it was truly ‘software,’ not ‘services,’ that was top of mind,” he said in a company memo to employees.

“We feel there’s tremendous growth potential in moving toward a world that fully embraces software, services and the Web. The device mesh, the social mesh, the cloud-based infrastructure, and server/service symmetry represent great opportunities across all markets we serve,” Ozzie continued.

Live Mesh is evidence that Ozzie is gaining more influence in the company and implementing his vision, Valdes said. Live Mesh is one step in Ozzie’s long-term vision of a distributed Web that deals with the interconnection of devices, content and eventually people.

“Microsoft is leveraging its Windows franchise and addressing a need that people have. They are also leveraging this technology they acquired along with Ray Ozzie. This is an opportunity for Ray Ozzie to make his mark on Microsoft, which he hasn’t yet. This is the first step, where he is coming into his own, and we’ll see how it pans out,” he added.

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