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Microsoft Live Mesh platform takes on Google, Adobe

If done well, Live Mesh from Microsoft can blur the lines between online and offline computing.

As with most core strategies at Microsoft, Live Mesh has a strong platform angle.

At the Web 2.0 Expo on Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled Live Mesh, a cloud service for synchronizing files, folders, and Web-delivered content, such as news feeds, across multiple devices.

Along with giving people access to a test version, the company offered a tech preview that will allow developers to access the Mesh APIs to write Web applications with the data-syncing features.

People have long said Microsoft doesn't "get" the Web or is too tied to its desktop heritage. Well, part of the PC legacy is the hard drive, as in "your information."

With Ray Ozzie as chief software architect, Microsoft is tackling one of the trickiest computing problems of the day: data.

In the Live Mesh blog, Microsoft general manager Amit Mital laid out the guiding principles for developers:

• Services Are the Core of the Platform--the Live Mesh platform exposes a number of core services including some Live Services that can all be accessed using the Live Mesh API; these include Storage (online and offline), Membership, Sync, Peer-to-Peer Communication and Newsfeed.

• Same API on Clients and in the Cloud--the programming model is the same for the cloud and all connected devices, which means a Live Mesh application works exactly the same regardless of whether it's running in the cloud, in a browser, on a desktop, or on a mobile device.

• Open, Extendable Data Model--a basic data model is provided for the most common tasks needed for a Live Mesh application; developers can also customize and extend the data model in any fashion that is needed for a specific application.

• Flexible Application Model--developers can choose what application developer model best fits their needs.

Reaction among developers and tech bloggers has been generally positive, likely because Live Mesh seems to serve a real need for people with multiple devices. Developers also shed light on how the platform helps Microsoft competitively.

Josh Catone at ReadWrite Web said that Live Mesh brings offline access to Web applications, much like Adobe AIR and Google Gears (which is still in development). Catone writes:

"Web apps using the Mesh platform will be able to lean on the client software to take their Web applications offline, including all user data, and sync it up when the user gets back online at a later time.

Microsoft is taking an offline approach that is more akin to Google Gears or Mozilla Prism than Adobe AIR--the Web-to-desktop functionality of Mesh is essentially a wrapper for the actual Web app.

Ryan Stewart, a rich Internet application (RIA) evangelist at Adobe Systems, pointed out how important Live Mesh is to getting Silverlight, Microsoft's alternative to Adobe Flash, onto more devices. Live Mesh only works on Windows machines now, but Silverlight runs on the Mac OS, Linux through Moonlight, and mobile devices. Stewart writes:

"As an RIA fan boy, I'm excited to see what people build on top of Live Mesh because I think it tries to solve the right problem. We should just have access to our data. It shouldn't matter if we're in the browser, on the desktop, or on a device. That's a goal I think both Adobe and Microsoft share and I think the next couple of years are going to be great in unifying the Web and getting rid of 'Web application' versus 'browser applications.' They're just going to be applications when all is said and done."

Meanwhile, all that talk of Web OSes or Webtops seems to be coming from Microsoft, the company with presumably the most to lose as computing moves from the PC to the Web.

"Is this like a WebOS (Webdesktop, Webtop?)--yes, although everyone seems to be avoiding the term, this is a lot like all those WebOS apps you've seen. You get a virtual desktop with 5GB of storage and you can access it from anywhere. It's integrated with Windows' Remote Desktop, so it's really simple to set up," writes Stan Schroeder at Mashable.

What developers actually do with the Live Mesh platform remains to be seen. But third-party applications are key to delivering on its promise.