Whatever happened to Microsoft's 'other' mesh projects?

"Mesh" is the hot new buzzword in Microsoft land, thanks to remarks about Microsoft's future direction made by Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie earlier this month. But there is more than one "mesh" in Redmond.

"Mesh" is the hot new buzzword in Microsoft land, thanks to remarks about Microsoft's future direction made by Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie earlier this month. But there is more than one "mesh" in Redmond.

Ozzie outlined his vision for future device and social-networking meshes. But Ozzie didn't mention the traditional "mesh network" -- a way of routing data, voice and instructions between nodes. That doesn't mean Microsoft has neglected that data/voice mesh world. In fact, Microsoft researchers have been working on a handful of mesh-networking projects, at least two of which are likely to be productized soon, I hear.

Mesh networking has been a hot-button for Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates for most of this decade. The Redmond, Cambridge UK and Silicon Valley Microsoft Research labs all have been working on various pieces of the mesh-networking puzzle, deploying testbed mesh networks at work and in local apartment complexes. Microsoft Research also made available for download and licensing a couple of years ago a piece of its mesh-network code, the mesh connectivity layer (MCL) driver. Microsoft described MCL as a driver that implements a virtual network adapter in a way that makes the rest of the network appear as a virtual link.

One of Microsoft's near-term mesh-networking projects that could soon become a product was known as the "Venice Project." (And no, not the "Project Venice" that ultimately became Joost.) The Venice Project (most references to which seem to have been scrubbed from the Microsoft Research site) is/was an initiative to develop wireless mesh networks that will provide both neighborhood-wide and city-wide connectivity in rural and urban environments.

Elements of the Venice Project infrastructure included a multiple radio hardware platform, a 900 MHz 802.11-like RF transceiver and dual-frequency mesh connectivity. Windows Mobile and Windows CE devices seem to be target devices.

The Venice Project could debut first as one of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential projects, aimed at users in developing nations.

Another wireless-related Microsoft Research project that is likely to turn commercial sooner rather than later is known as "WiFi Ads." WiFi ads are location-sensitive ads that can be pushed to users who are in the vicinity of a wireless network. Given Microsoft management's all-consuming focus these days on online advertising, it's not hard to see why they'd be interested in fidning a way to deliver ads to users who may not be connected to the Internet and/or who aren't proactively sharing their information via GPS systems via a technique known as "beacon-stuffing."

There's one more mesh-network-related Microsoft Research project I found interesting. It's called ShareNETS. From the description on the Microsoft Research site:

"We envision that wireless technologies will facilitate communications for users by providing pervasive connections among wireless-enabled devices. In this project, we focus on end-system based wireless networking in which devices adaptively and cooperatively form a self-organized heterogeneous multi-hop wireless network. ShareNETS extends and enhances existing infrastructure-based networks in many ways and can enable convenient services even when a network infrastructure is unavailable. ShareNETS is applicable to many attractive scenarios including community/office mesh, mobile ad hoc networks, proximity networking, etc."

Do these myriad Microsoft Research mesh projects have anything to do with Microsoft's forthcoming www.mesh.com (in whatever form that ultimately emerges)? I think they are two different "meshes" -- though both quite interesting in their own right. What do you think?

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