Ten things to know about Microsoft's Live Mesh

Ten things to know about Microsoft's Live Mesh

Summary: What, exactly, is Microsoft's Live Mesh and what do developers, customers and partners need to know about it? Here are 10 talking points I came up with, after chatting with some of the Softies involved in bringing Live Mesh to fruition.


Microsoft took the wraps off Live Mesh at 9 p.m. PDT on April 22, just ahead of the service's official debut at the Web 2.0 Expo this week.

(Here's a bunch of screen shots of what testers can expect to see when Microsoft kicks off its Live Mesh tech preview later this week.)

Live Mesh is an ambitious initiative -- a combination of a platform and a service -- and one that's been more than two years in the making, according to company officials with whom I spoke earlier this week. I'd go so far as to say Live Mesh will be Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's "make it or break it" project, given Ozzie has been setting the stage for Live Mesh since October 2005, when he outlined his pie-in-the-sky goals for it (without calling it Live Mesh) in his "Internet Services Disruption" memo to the troops.

But back here on earth, what, exactly, is Live Mesh and what do developers, customers and partners need to know about it? Here are 10 things that grabbed me about Live Mesh, after distilling my notes from chatting with some of the Softies involved in bringing Live Mesh to fruition.

1. The definition. As has become the norm with so many of its Software + Services products and strategies, Microsoft isn't the best at coming up with a succinct Live Mesh definition. The closest I found (in a Live Mesh reviewer's guide) was this: "Live Mesh is a 'software-plus-services' platform and experience from Microsoft that enables PCs and other devices to 'come alive' by making them aware of each other through the Internet, enabling individuals and organizations to manage, access, and share their files and applications seamlessly on the Web and across their world of devices." If I were in charge of defining Live Mesh, I think I'd go with "a Software + Services platform for synchronization and collaboration."

2. The codename(s). Prying codename confirmation out of anyone at Microsoft these days is a chore. But I did get a couple of Softies to admit that Live Mesh is the instantiation of Microsoft's Windows Live Core strategy. "Horizon" was the codename for the build of Live Mesh that Softies have been testing internally, officials added. (Hat tip to the LiveSide.Net guys here for initially unearthing these codenames, not to mention the whole Live Mesh concept, earlier than anyone else out there.)

3. The team. So who's behind Live Mesh, other than Ozzie? A team of about 100 is considered the core Live Mesh group, said Jeff Hansen, General Manager of Service Marketing. Given the connection between Windows Live Core and Live Mesh (mentioned in Talking Point 2), it seems as though a lot of Microsoft's heavy hitters have had a hand in Live Mesh. The Live Mesh team is part of Microsoft's Live Platform Services unit under David Treadwell, which has 400 folks in its ranks, Hanson said. Live Platform Services is one of the four "Live platform outlined by Ozzie last year.

4. The buzzwords. All the new requisite Microsoft checkboxes get a tick. Live Mesh is open to developers (not just .Net ones). It's going to be cross-platform and cross-browser, the Softies say. It will bebased on standard protocols and feeds -- HTTP, RSS, REST, ATOM, JSON and FeedSync. And it's chock full of Web 2.0 goodness, with a Facebook-like news feed about your contacts and your devices and lots of "social graph" info built in from the get-go.

Ten things to know about Microsoft’s Live Mesh5. The guts. I am an unabashed fan of architectural diagrams. Microsoft's pictures of Live Mesh don't disappoint. At the base level (click on the diagram at right to see full size) Live Mesh builds on the cloud storage, management, service and provisioning and computational fabric that other Microsoft Live services use. On top of that, Live Mesh uses the same identity, synchronized storage and connectivity services that Microsoft uses for other Live offerings. The "platform" services (a k a the "developer stack") include the new Mesh Framework, as well as both a cloud and a client software run-time Mesh Operating Environment (MOE). Live Mesh "experiences" from Microsoft and third-party providers will build on top of these layers. (Thanks to Ori Amiga, Group Program Manage for the Live Development Platform, for spending a lot of time walking me through this.)

6. What about sync? Wasn't Live Mesh supposed to be all about sync? Early descriptions of Horizon/Live Mesh focused on the service's online/offline and cross-device/folder synchronization capabilities. At Microsoft Mix '08 in March, the Softies made it seem as though Microsoft's Synchronization Framework and FeedSync would be the most important elements of the vague device and social meshes outlined by Ozzie. FeedSync is definitely one building block of Live Mesh (as one can see in this architectural diagram showing the Live Mesh developer stack). And synchronized storage is a key building block of the platform/service. Instead of relying on many of the existing synchronization and collaboration products/technologies that Microsoft offers today -- things like FolderShare, Windows live SkyDrive, Office Live Workspace, etc. -- the Live Mesh team seems to be building its platform pretty much from scratch.

Ten things to know about Microsoft’s Live Mesh7. What about Silverlight? Even though the Live Mesh team went out of its way to emphasize that Microsoft sees Live Mesh as an open platform, and not just one designed to appeal to the Windows/.Net choir, both Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (Silverlight) are key elements of the Live Mesh developer stack (a diagram of which -- here on the left -- can be enlarged to full size by clicking on it). Support for Flash, Cocoa, JavaScript and other non-Microsoft-centric technologies is there, too. But given Live Mesh is from Microsoft, I'd wager Silverlight applications and services will look and work better as Live Mesh endpoints than apps/services built on and for Mac OSX/Safari, Linux and Mozilla ones.

8. Live Mesh-isms. In addition to the aforementioned MOE (Mesh Operating Environment), other Mesh-centric concepts that will be important to developers working with early iterations of Live Mesh include: Mesh Bar, a "fly-out" adjunct to Internet Explorer that will provide you with notifications and activity updates on your devices/folders; Live Remote Desktop, an extension of Windows Remote Desktop, giving you the ability to directly access and control other devices within your mesh; Live Desktop, a user's view of his/her cloud storage mesh; Mesh Object, a feed or collection of feeds (member feeds, news feeds, custom feeds); and the "ring," which is all of the devices in/on your mesh.

9. Consumer vs. business. Live Mesh the service is definitely starting out as a consumer play for Microsoft. In describing the kinds of scenarios users might rely on Live Mesh to provide, Microsoft execs mentioned being able to share photos across devices and with preselected contacts. In the near term, Live Mesh will support PCs and Web browsers. As time goes on, it sounds like Microsoft expects it to work on/with portable media players, gaming consoles, TVs, printers and more. Live Mesh will allow users to choose to sync home PCs and personal devices with work PCs. But Microsoft also foresees a broader scenario, with Live Mesh being customized by various Microsoft development teams, as well as third-party ones, to be able to sync/share line-of-business data. Someday.

10. The timing. Microsoft is opening up a technology preview (pre-beta) to 10,000 testers this week. By the time the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) rolls around in late October, Microsoft is hoping to be able to offer the Live Mesh service to a broader set of beta testers. The Softies also are promising around the PDC time frame more information on how the Live Mesh framework (Mesh FX) fits in with the Windows Live Developer Platform (Live Contacts, Live Mail, Live Messenger and other related application programming interfaces) that the Softies already have started making available to developers. And details also are allegedly coming at the PDC about how users will be able to store Live Mesh data and information on their own servers, not just in Microsoft's datacenter. Hansen said Microsoft will provide a way for developers to "go back in and mesh-enable existing applications." No word (yet) on how that will work. And no word on when Microsoft hopes to make the final version of Live Mesh available to any/all interested parties.

What do you think? Does Live Mesh sound workable? Any red flags at this early point? Do you think Live Mesh will be worth the wait?

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Software Development


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Mary Jo, I think you get it but many won't

    A common reaction that I seem to be reading is that MESH is Microsoft's admission that everything will move to the Web - data, apps etc. What I think a lot of people fail to get is that MESH is about giving users the best of both world's: powerful applications running on PC's or Mac's or phones or set-top boxes or XBOX's or PS3's or any other device; connecting all of those applications over the Web and synchronizing data between them. If this works we'll have all of the benefits of local processing and storage PLUS the benefits of anywhere access to data. Applications should be able to roam with the user and adapt ot the devide the user us currently using. If I'm using my PC I should get all that goes with that; hardware acceleration, access to local file system; direct access to the CPU etc. If I'm on a dumb terminal (aka a Web browser) I'll get a "good enough" version that lacks some of the power that I'll get on the node. If this works we won't be doomed to a world of least common denominator - applications built using AJAX or Flash or even Silverlight that don't use the power of the node. I want to have my cake and eat it too and it's ideas like this that MIGHT make it possible. As always, the proof will be in the pudding.
    • I Agree

      I think the browser merely points to the possibilities of how the Internet can be used. I believe desktop apps are what will make the Internet shine. E.g. I really love subscribing to and watching downloaded podcasts on the Zune client software. The user experience is so much better than consuming streaming video or audio. (Though I really wish the Zune software had an equalizer on it.) I believe when companies with major web sites such as even Zdnet come out with desktop analogs to their web sites, they will have their readers hooked to their content like never before, and they will be able to pile on services and features to gain revenue like never before.

      I certainly believe the browser has merit and will continue to be used a lot, but desktop / local software on PCs and devices are what will make the Internet really shine. I believe desktop software will continue to be the workhorses they now are, but they will be extended or re-oriented around Internet based data. Desktop apps will be given new roles around surface computing, and for the display and interaction with consumer data. Therefore I believe the above mesh announcement is very important for the above to take place, and to generally take us to the ?access to data any time, any place? promise. Very nice work MS.
      P. Douglas
    • doesn't Adobe's AIR do this?

      Just the fact that Microsoft creates operating systems makes it tough sell for mesh to be cross platform. I believe Adobe's Air answers many of the fundamental problems that the browser based applications have. AIR could also be a great proxy for applications that are written in any language.

      I guess it's typical of MS to try to do anything and everything. These days it is more important to have something concrete than just get excited over hype.
    • P2P 2.0

      They just used a bunch of buzz words to keep their media partners from getting nervous. This is the killer feature that Vista should have had. Trouble is, Corporations want to centralize, not decentralize. Consumers will want to abuse this for illegal file-sharing purposes.
    • I don't get it.

      Good luck.

      < JUMP >

      Pleasure Victum.
  • Excellent! Excellent! (NT)

    P. Douglas
  • RE: Ten things to know about Microsoft's Live Mesh

    Won't work because it can't.

    Well, not here in the UK at least.

    We've got lousy bandwidth providers who don't even deliver what they promise, let alone what we need. And it's getting worse as media distributors like the BBC shove vast quantities of stuff down the pipes.

    Might work as an intranet enabling environment, in a university say. But in the real world, now. Not a chance.

    Is this just another Sharepoint; brilliant technology but what's it for?
    • Then I guess YouTube is a flop in the UK also

      Since you are so horribly bandwidth-constrained, everything requiring video must be a complete failure in the UK, according to your logic. Therefore, YouTube isn't very popular there?

      You aught to try Remote Desktop some time, because you'd see that it has no problem with even dial-up lines. The other technologies are similarly bandwidth-easy. Unless you have a tough time downloading RSS/ATOM feeds?
      • You two should try Telescum NZ's lousy rural dial up

        Like to spend over 24 hours downloading a 188MB file?
        You don't know you're born! *VBG*
    • Monsters are never flexible enough

      Sharepoint is a disaster. A monster which is never customizable enough. It force you to think and develop in a way it proposes, instead of allowing business logic to rule. We spent half of the year trying to accommodate it as base of company's intranet. It does not work. So, even bigger Live Mesh will definitely fail as a base of corporate intranet. Monster do not work. Only pluggable sets of component sharing standard interface work.
  • Microsoft like to create new technologies

    Microsoft like to create new technologies or (usually) re branding a old one with a new name. And the worst part is when Microsoft overuse with "new technologies", MS fail in keeping simple their programs and services. So as far i can understand Live Mesh = programs + online services, or you could bet for a live mess
    • 'Usually'?

      I STILL haven't found one MS innovation - apart from licensing their products instead of selling them, of course.
    • Thought that was more like Apple

      Aren't they the company that often gets too much credit for "innovating" when it's really putting a shiny face on things that have already been done?
    • If you can't understand such technology then an XO would...

      be a nice gift for you. It's a great introduction to the world of computing.

      Seriously though, simplicity is what keeps legal and illegal MS software users into getting each and every release of their products. So I don't know what you're whining about.
  • Windows for Workgroups with Groove on top

    Granted, it will have more bells and whistles than either and will improve on both (hopefully on both counts).

    I know, some will jump on this and say NO IT IS NOT!. But as a concept, sharing files in a non-domain structure. Each individual decides what to share with whom...

    I am rather pleased with Groove at the moment, so if they CAN inprove the experience...

    But how do you prevent me from sharing the drive of my Corporate Computer (With classified information) with my home computer which can be hacked???
    • Non-Hackable Home Computer

      But how do you prevent me from sharing the drive of my Corporate Computer (With classified information) with my home computer which can be hacked???

      Ever heard of a hard-wired router? Most hard-wired routers have firewalls built into them. They are inexpensive (I paid $10.00 for my LinkSys) and are very hard to hack. The other thing you might add is a software firewall to your computer. There are freeware ones available that are quite good. Comodo is one that comes to mind. You can download it from another ZD website. download.com .
      • That's not the point though

        If I'm a corporate administrator I need to ENFORCE data security as a basic part of my job. I can't rely on my users getting around to patching their machines.
        • Drop all traffic to Mesh.com.

          User can't sync, surf, or Remote Desktop then.
    • Great points


      These are great points in concept thought for what this is like. And also what a wonderful question to pose. How do you prevent, other than at the Infrastrucutre level, the sharing of the files frolm the Corporate Drive to the Home computer?

      But then again how do you prevent it today? I assume it would be similar in prevention in that security exists with the corporate network and also business processes exists to then govern the remaining part of that equation for prevention so that users should "Know" not to share classified information they have access to.

  • Dont forget eleventh thing !

    If Live Mesh is good like Vista ( why not ? ) then it's Live Mesh is Life Mess !