Live Mesh is Microsoft’s program for syncing folders between multiple computers and online storage, making your files available to you wherever you are.
I think Live Mesh is dead, and I think I know why: Microsoft is deliberately cutting back on what it could have delivered to protect the revenue it wants from Office 2010.
Live Mesh was built on promising technology and it fulfills part of its promise: once it’s set up, it syncs files accurately and quietly.
Its quirks were easy to overlook – for a while. Two examples:
- There is nothing intuitive about setting up Mesh. It has enough flexibility to sync any folder on your computer but that comes with a price – non-tech types are confused by the nondescript Mesh blue folders, while everyone immediately understands a special folder named “My Dropbox.”
- There are a few other half-baked features: remote access like LogMeIn that is poorly designed technically and buggy in practice, and uninviting web access to files, for example.
The promise was that Live Mesh would be improved, that it would serve as the underpinning for a new generation of synced content, and that it would be integrated with Microsoft’s other online services.
Then a long time passed.
During that time, Microsoft rolled out overlapping services as if it had given the same assignment to several different departments in the company and some kind of bizarre war was going on. Skydrive, Foldershare, Windows Live Sync, Live Mesh, Office Live Workspace – none of them quite right and none of them talking to each other.
A few months ago I speculated about the next generation of Microsoft’s cloud services, a glorious unified vision of a few simple programs that all of us could use to work naturally among multiple computers and devices.
Then more time passed.
Microsoft put on its Professional Developers Conference in November. Live Mesh had been a main attraction of the PDC in previous years.
Nothing. Not a word was spoken about Live Mesh.
Ray Ozzie is the Chief Software Architect for Microsoft and Live Mesh had been one of his pet projects. When he was interviewed after the conference about Live Mesh, he was quite literally incoherent. It’s one of the strangest interviews I can remember recently. Here are a couple of questions by ZDNet blogger Mary-Jo Foley and Ozzie’s responses:
I had a chance to ask Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie about Live Mesh during a one-on-one interview with him at the show on November 17. I asked Ozzie why there was nothing about Mesh at the PDC. He said:
“We’re pushing the Live platform stuff to Mix. Or I shouldn’t actually say Mix, in terms of that, it is going to be spring….The Live stuff and phone stuff basically is out in that time frame.
“But that (Live Mesh) will no longer be discussed in the context of ‘Live Mesh,’ but rather in ‘the Windows Live platform,’ which is now, as you know, which it’s now part of.
I asked Ozzie a follow-up: If you aren’t using Live Mesh any more as a way to get consumers excited about the Azure platform, what’s the new plan to push the “commercialization of IT” strategy with Azure? Ozzie’s response:
“(T)he reality is — I know this isn’t very sexy — but I don’t think people are really going to be aware that it (Azure) is there. I think when people go to Web sites, they’ll just go to a Web site. They won’t really know what it’s connected to. When they use a phone or a piece of client software or a TV or a cable box that happens to talk to a cloud back end, it will just happen. And the way they will experience it is it will be reliable, it will be fast, it will scale.
“Probably the most important thing is that we live in a very faddish culture,… Whenever there is a service that’s backing up something that’s very trendy, these things will just happen without any issues. There will be black Friday and everyone wants to just buy their Beanie Baby and they’ll be able to.”
After Beanie Babies, Ozzie went on to say that the consumer benefit of Microsoft’s cloud platform would be demonstrated by Bing’s integration with the Twitter fire hose and “the H1N1 thing that’s going on right now.” Trust me, it doesn’t make any more sense if you read the whole quote.
Let me guess what’s going on.
If Microsoft truly integrated Skydrive with its other programs and services, we’d have a simple program that would sync some of the local folders on our computers with the online storage in Skydrive. When we’re at our own computers, we could work on our files using any program we already own. When we’re away from our computers, we could work on our files anywhere with Microsoft’s upcoming web-based versions of Office programs – Word, Excel, Powerpoint. Live Mesh would be the engine making that work, whether it was identified or absorbed into some bigger structure.
Microsoft wants to sell the next version of Office, Office 2010. I think it has deliberately cut back its plans so that Office 2010 is required to take full advantage of its cloud services.
I think Microsoft is going to provide a method of storing files online that can only be used conveniently with a copy of Office 2010.
Office 2010 programs will have a menu item allowing files to be opened and saved directly to and from online storage in Skydrive.
There has been no hint that access to Skydrive will be integrated into Windows so we can all do the same thing. If that was the plan, Skydrive wouldn’t need a special entry on the Office menu, right?
When the upcoming services are described, the context is always Office 2010, as in this blog entry last month from the Windows Live team: “With the new Office 2010 Beta you’ll be able to save a document that’s on your PC directly to your SkyDrive storage space.”
The only way I can read that is that the inverse is true: Without Office 2010, you won’t be able to save a document directly to Skydrive. And that’s just not good enough.
- I don’t want Skydrive to continue to be as clumsy to use as it is now unless I pony up $200 for an Office 2010 upgrade.
- I don’t want Skydrive to be the only place my files are stored. I don’t trust it. I want local copies of those files, automatically.
- I’ve thought long and hard about the Office Web Applications that will allow you to work on files from a web browser. That sounds nifty. If that’s all I get from Office 2010, it’s not enough. I’m going to use Dropbox and Jungledisk to work with my files and I’ll understand completely if you switch to Google Docs.
This is all fevered speculation. I have no inside sources. I want some announcement to prove me wrong and put Microsoft back in the game. If I’m right, though, then this single feature is my poster child for the ways that Microsoft has lost its way with consumers and small businesses.