Ten things to know about Microsoft's Live Mesh

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

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.

5. 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.

7. 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?

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