Is Microsoft's Live Mesh on its way to the graveyard?

Live Mesh, Microsoft's PC-to-PC sync service, has been meandering down a long and winding road since 2008. Are its final days in sight?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

No one from Microsoft will go on the record saying it, but it's looking more and more like Live Mesh may be on its way to being phased out.

It's been a long strange trip for Live Mesh, Microsoft's cross-PC synchronization service. It's gone by a slew of different names, including Windows Live Sync, FolderShare, and way back in 2008, codename "Horizon." And it's morphed almost as many times in terms in terms of its promised feature set.

Currently, Live Mesh is considered part of the Windows Live Essentials bundle of software and services, which also includes Windows Live Writer, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mail, Family Safety and the Bing Bar. But I'm thinking the next version of Live Essentials -- whatever that looks like, given that some of the Live Essentials services seem likely to become Windows 8 apps -- may not include a standalone Live Mesh offering at all.

Live Mesh 2011 allows users to sync their documents, photos and other files across their PCs and Macs, as well as with SkyDrive. It enables users to connect remotely to PCs that are online in order to "fetch" content from them. And it allows users to sync program settings and IE favorites across PCs.

A subset of Live Mesh's functionality is in the midst of being folded into SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service, the local Windows and Mac SkyDrive apps, which are available, as of this week, in preview form; and the smartphone versions of SkyDrive apps available for Windows Phone, iPhone, and likely someday soon, Android phones. (The SkyDrive team is releasing updates on roughly a quarterly basis these days, a far cry from the once every two/three years release pace that many of the Windows Live properties have followed up until now.)

“As we discussed recently, we are excited to bring the DNA of SkyDrive and Mesh together to provide our customers with seamless access to their content," said a company spokesperson when I asked whether Mesh will be completely supplanted by SkyDrive. "We think you will find SkyDrive to be increasingly useful over time.”

Microsoft's apparent goal is to wean current Mesh users from that service and move them to SkyDrive. On April 23, Microsoft posted a comparative chart entitled "SkyDrive for Mesh users" that highlighted the ways in which many of Live Mesh's feature equivalents are being incorporated into SkyDrive.

(click on table to enlarge)

The way that SkyDrive handles syncing is quite different from how Live Mesh does it, which is something not reflected by the chart. With SkyDrive Live Mesh, users can sync between PCs without going to the cloud to do so. A number of commenters on this week's Building Windows 8 blog post about SkyDrive reiterated that they considered this feature a differentiator from other syncing services, and something that will be sorely missed.

With Mesh, users have more granular control over how much of their content they sync. That goes away with SkyDrive, as poster Christopher Copeland noted in the comments:

"I think we need a property / attribute on each folder that indicates if it is synchronized or not with each device (a la Mesh)… I am OK with providing a consistent Path per install... but putting up to ~25GB across each machine with no ability to segment what goes where (personal vs. business for example) is a non-starter for me and this service as my 'end all be all' -- and I really wanted it to be!"

The new SkyDrive apps also currently don't allow users to see any folders that other users share with them. As one commentator on the latest Building Windows 8 blog post on SkyDrive noted, "without this feature, I cannot stop using DropBox." (Microsoft's response: Hey, that's "a great feature request.")

In terms of the favorites-sync capability, Microsoft notes via the aforementioned chart that this capability is being built into Windows 8 (Not that this will help Windows Vista and Windows 7 users, but that seems to be the full-steam-ahead strategic direction.)

I'm hearing that most if not all the Softies who were previously working on Live Mesh (and haven't already moved to other teams and/or left the company) are now working on SkyDrive. Microsoft is touting (via its job postings) that "each month over 100 million people around the world use SkyDrive to store their most important data totaling 4,004,294,335,813,908 bytes and growing." All the signs do seem to be pointing toward Microsoft dropping Live Mesh in favor of SkyDrive in the not-too-distant future, but no one from Redmond is yet saying that in any official capacity.

Live Mesh users: Are there any features you'd like to see moved to SkyDrive or altered in SkyDrive that would keep you loyal if and when Microsoft does pull the plug on Live Mesh?

Editorial standards