There was finally an official notice and some details about the plans to replace Foldershare with a new program named “Windows Live Sync” in December. Here’s the blog post with the announcement today. If you’re unfamiliar with Foldershare, I wrote this description a couple of years ago.

The program(s) do a simple job: they keep a folder in sync on more than one computer. You can have a folder on your desk at the office and another one on your desk at home, and the files will always be the same in both places – as long as both computers are online and running the software at the same time. If you edit a file at home, the edited version will be waiting for you at the office. You can share a folder with others and files will be copied among everyone, avoiding the need for email attachments. This is genuinely helpful in many circumstances but it was tricky to set up and I’ve known many people who found it confusing to use.

Microsoft purchased Foldershare a few years ago and is now revamping it so it fits with the other “Windows Live” branded programs. Among other things, that means that access to the new Windows Live Sync will be controlled by your Windows Live ID, just like all the other Microsoft services, instead of the separate, unrelated name and password used by Foldershare.

The migration to Windows Live Sync will cause some disruption for some Foldershare users – basically, if you’ve been using Foldershare then the new service will automatically begin syncing the same folders among your own computers but you’ll have to re-create the shares with other people.

Windows Live Sync will allow you to sync up to 20 folders with 20,000 files each, doubling Foldershare’s limits. That’s nice but not what I expected. The service allows two computers to talk directly to each other with virtually no involvement by Microsoft’s servers other than connecting the computers – I don’t understand why you can’t connect virtually unlimited folders and files.

Reportedly there will be particular attention paid to photos in the new program, making it simple to make your photos available on all of your computers as well as integrating with Windows Live Photo Gallery somehow or other.

So that’s all great, but you’ll see one question asked over and over in the comments to today’s announcement: why does Microsoft have two programs – Foldershare/Windows Live Sync and Live Mesh – that perform almost identical chores? Does it make sense to learn Windows Live Sync and start using it when Microsoft appears much more committed to Live Mesh?

That’s a good question. There’s no answer to it at the moment.

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