David Treadwell is the special guest on the Gillmor Gang this week (check out the podcast of the show here). He is the corporate vice president of Microsoft's Live Platform Services, which includes the recently introduced Live Mesh. Treadwell works directly for Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, who has been working to put the Web, rather than the PC, at the center of Microsoft's computing universe.
Live Mesh is trying to solve a key user problem--how to mesh the desktop, mobile, and the Web for consumers and developers. For example, Live Mesh can provide core underlying infrastructure for synchronization, collaboration, and other services.
"This does represent a pretty significant advance for Microsoft, bringing the Web to Windows and Windows to the Web and connecting them super-well," Treadwell said.
I asked Treadwell if Live Mesh is designed as a core and pervasive layer for the Web, as Windows is for the desktop. "I don't think Live Mesh should be a required piece of technology, but we do view it as something that would enhance the user experience, with protocols that make it easy to connect with other services, such as Twitter." He went on to say that Live Mesh will enable a broad variety of usage scenarios, taking advantage of the standard Internet protocols.
During the Gang, Treadwell said he was worried during the roll out of Live Mesh that the message of an underlying platform would not resonate with users and the press. It's not easy to make plumbing exciting, but people seem to be getting the idea. "Live Mesh itself has a runtime for devices for synchronization, communications and the like," Treadwell said. It is written in Microsoft's .NET, C# and with some native code, and utilizes several public protocols. The key piece is FeedSynch, Treadwell said, surrounded by other standard protocols such as TCP/IP, HTTP, XML, RSS, ATOM, etc.
Treadwell was asked about the Live Mesh-Silverlight connection. "We make use of the Silverlight runtime for the media viewer on Live Desktop, but it doesn't require Silverlight," Treadwell said. "I view Live Mesh and Silverlight as orthogonal and complementary. Silverlight is the runtime for the presentation engine, and it has nothing for synchronization and low level communications like Live Mesh."
Regarding support for non-Windows platforms (Live Mesh currently requires Windows), Treadwell said, "Live Mesh synchronization capabilities require infrastructure running on specific devices, such as the Mac or Nokia phones. We will be pragmatic about getting to as many devices as we can. As long as people are willing to open up their devices and put code on there we will pursue it very aggressively. He also noted that a Linux Mono implementation of a Mesh client could be developed.
Yesterday Amit Mital, Microsoft's general manager of Live Mesh, said Mac support would come in the next two months, and a prototype was demoed at the Web 2.0 Expo.
Host Steve Gillmor asked what he termed the "real" question: Is Live Mesh a transport to take Twitter messages into the Mesh and assign it to multiple affinity groups and express it on Silverlight clients that communicate with each other?
Treadwell responded, "Yes."
He was asked about synchronizing user and social-graph accounts by Marc Canter. "It's an interesting challenge around the class of data portability problems. We have to be concerned about user privacy and we are carefully exploring scenarios. The Mesh could be used but we have to make sure we are not putting user identities at risk," Treadwell said. "The Mesh doesn't have a contact store, friend relationships or other high-level features of Facebook or MySpace, but it can be used as low-level software to enable scenarios, such as synchronizing user and social graph accounts."
Dana Gardner asked Treadwell about supporting real-time applications, such as VoIP. Live Mesh uses "network transparent communications infrastructure," which connects devices regardless of network topology. "Any two devices with an Internet connection can communicate, but it doesn't have real-time communications capabilities. However, as we open up the SDK, it could be user for real-time applications.
I asked about the SharePoint-Live Mesh connection. "We are looking at ways for SharePoint to sit on top of Live Mesh. A scenario is to have Sharepoint documents synchronized across multiple devices. It's not available today but it's not hard to see some scenarios like that," Treadwell said.
He talked about a new feature coming for Live Mesh, the ability to do different version of media files on a per device basis. For example, you could have a 10MB photo on your desktop but a much smaller version on your phone, so you get the most appropriate experience on a device, Treadwell said. "We will need intelligent mechanisms to cache transcoded versions of files so we don't have to do it on the fly," he said.
Of course, there is the business model question related to Live Mesh. Treadwell said Live Mesh makes it easier for people to own and manage multiple devices, keeping the data and applications in sync. The financial benefit accrues to Microsoft in the case that people acquire more devices that include pieces of monetizable software and services from Microsoft. In other words, billions of devices have Microsoft operating systems, middleware, applications, and ad services.See also: Live Mesh: Just one piece of the Microsoft's platform plan