On Tuesday, Microsoft officially spilled the beans on its Live Mesh service for synchronizing data and connecting multiple devices. If your eyes are glossing over from all the mentions of seamlessness, synchronization, and software plus services, here's our best attempt at making sense of things.
What is Live Mesh?
At its most basic level it combines downloadable software and a cloud-based service to synchronize and share data and applications among different devices.
How does it work?
In large part, it uses the notion of feeds to go beyond a Web site and also to describe both data and devices.
What can it do today?
Basically two main things: It allows folders of files to be synchronized among a number of Windows PCs and to the cloud. It also enables a simple, free way to do a remote desktop with another PC in your mesh.
What's promised but not there right now?
There are a bunch of things being talked about that are not part of the current beta. Chief among that is support for other devices. Although Microsoft is billing the Mesh as a way to connect various devices, right now it only works with Windows PCs. Support for Macs and Windows Mobile devices is due soon.
Live Mesh is also billed as a way of allowing offline applications to synchronize data among multiple users and for online applications to work offline and synchronize data back up to the cloud. However, Microsoft is not providing any Mesh-ed applications as part of this release, nor is it ready with the development tools needed for outsiders to write Mesh-connected applications.
When can I get it?
Microsoft is running a closed beta for about 10,000 people right now, including attendees at the Mix '08 trade show as well as this week's Web 2.0 Expo. A broader beta is planned for around the time of this fall's Professional Developers Conference.
What is the cost?
For now, the service is free, offering 5GB of online storage, with unlimited peer-to-peer data.
So, what is the business model?
Microsoft said it is still sorting that out. Among the models under consideration are subscription-based models, advertising-based approaches, and even micropayments.
Will it work in any browser?
Sort of. Viewing one's Live Mesh can be done from Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari, but the remote desktop feature requires IE and an ActiveX plug-in.
Is this for businesses or just consumers?
The current release is really aimed at consumers, but Microsoft insists the architecture of the service is designed to meet business needs for security and other issues. Down the road, Microsoft plans to offer a way for businesses to have the "cloud" part of the data stored on the company's own servers, probably for a fee.
What services compete with Live Mesh?
For now, Live Mesh competes with a whole host of services that offer either online file storage and sharing, remote PC access, or both. That group includes folks like Box.net, LogMeIn, GoToMyPC, SugarSync, and Microsoft's own FolderShare--to name a few.
Longer term, Microsoft wants Live Mesh to be a platform that developers use to connect both online and offline programs. For that, Microsoft is competing for developers' already fragmented attention with other would-be Web platforms from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com, and others.
So is this what Ray Ozzie has been holed up doing the last two years?
In part. However, when pressed about whether this is Microsoft's big platform in the sky--the cloud operating system some have talked about--Microsoft indicated there is more to it and suggested the PDC might be when we see how this fits in with Ozzie's other efforts.