Can Microsoft's 'Harmonica' create P2P harmony across all devices?

A team inside the SQL Server database unit is building an end-to-end, P2P data synchronization platform, code-named "Harmonica," that will attempt to provide data synchronization across Windows and non-Windows services and devices -- much the way the WinFS team was hoping to do.

Ever since Microsoft decided in June 2006 to ax the standalone version of its WinFS uber file system, the company has been noticeably silent about its data synchronization plans. But that doesn't mean the company has given up on its ambitious strategy to synchronize data across both Windows and non-Windows-based devices and services.

In fact, there is a team inside the SQL Server database unit that is building an end-to-end, P2P data synchronization platform, code-named "Harmonica," that is designed to fulfill that task, according to sources close to the company.

Unlike some of Microsoft's other "anytime, anywhere" schemes, Harmonica doesn't seem to be complete vaporware. Microsoft's Windows Live Favorites synchronization capability is based on Harmonica, sources said.

Microsoft does have very ambitious plans for Harmonica, however. The ultimate goal is to have Harmonica provide the multimaster mesh underlying everything from the Zune MP3 player, to Microsoft's small-business services. If Microsoft can execute on its plan, existing and forthcoming Windows Live services will make extensive use of Harmonica to allow users to synchronize photos, e-mail, documents, music and video across applications, sources said. And the company is hoping to get third-party software and service developers to buy in, by providing them with a toolkit to allow them to make their offerings Harmonica-compatible, sources said.

In addition to providing the underlying Harmonica infrastructure, Microsoft also is working on consumer implementations of the Harmonica technology, sources said. One such implementation will be a file-sync utility developed by Microsoft, sources said. Perhaps this will be some kind of brand-new version of the SyncToy PowerToy.

Here's Microsoft's description of the Vista version of SyncToy:

"There are files from all kinds of sources that we want to store and manage. Files are created by our digital cameras, e-mail, cell phones, portable media players, camcorders, PDAs, and laptops. Increasingly, computer users are using different folders, drives, and even different computers (such as a laptop and a desktop) to store, manage, retrieve and view files. Yet managing hundreds or thousands of files is still largely a manual operation.... SyncToy, a free PowerToy for Microsoft Windows Vista, is an easy to use, highly customizable program that helps users to do the heavy lifting involved with the copying, moving, and synchronization of different directories."

P2P synchronization originally was slated to be a WinFS deliverable. A few years ago, Microsoft's goal was to integrate WinFS into Vista and Longhorn Server. Then, Microsoft was promising WinFS would be made available as an out-of-band add-on release to Windows XP, Windows Vista and Longhorn Server users at unspecified future date.

One of the sample applications that Microsoft made available as part of early WinFS builds was code-named "Rave." Rave sounds almost identical to Harmonica. According to a blog post by one of the lead WinFS team members, dated September 2005:

"WinFS Synchronization handles all the platform level details of peer to peer change enumeration and application, conflict detection, automatic conflict resolution and conflict logging.These are described in the WinFS SDK (software development kit).This represents a huge investment by Microsoft that makes it easy for an application to distribute its data. Rave was built on top of the platform level synchronization services. Rave implements a full mesh network topology to connect every user to every other user of a synchronized folder using WinFS Synchronization."

It's not clear how Microsoft currently plans to deliver Harmonica. Will it be an integrated component of "Katmai," the next version of SQL Server? Or a technology layer that will be part of future versions of Windows client and server?

Microsoft officials did not respond to a request for more information on Harmonica by the time this blog entry was posted. Officials said a couple of months ago not to expect Microsoft to discuss Katmai until some time in 2007.

Update: Microsoft's PR team provided the following statement regarding "Harmonica" at the end of the day on December 18: "Microsoft has no comment andhas nothing to announce at this time."