Windows Live Mesh: Out of sync

Microsoft continues to exhibit cognitive dissonance in its approach to the cloud, with conflicting storage capabilities

Let's say you sit on a design team at Microsoft. Let's say that you want to help IT folks on the road move their data into and out of the cloud. So you start by offering branded cloud storage that works with all Microsoft products, right?

Well, no.

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In yet another demonstration of how to confuse customers in droves, Microsoft has released details about its cloud-based synchronizing capability, now christened Windows Live Mesh. To understand the confusion, it helps if you know the history.

The new Windows Live Mesh represents a mashup of two older products: Windows Live Sync (formerly known as FolderShare) and Live Mesh (which grew from Ray Ozzie's FeedSync).

Windows Live Sync runs on Windows XP and Mac OS X systems and later. Part of Windows 7's Live Essentials, it emphasizes synchronizing files across computers, sharing files with other people, and getting at your files remotely from any computer connected to the Internet. As you make changes to files in a synced folder, Windows Live Sync changes those files on any other connected computer that has permission to use the folder. Windows Live Photo Gallery tied directly into Windows Live Sync.

Live Mesh took a different approach. Like Live Sync, it runs on Windows XP and Mac OS X systems and later, but it also runs on Windows Mobile 6. It has a remote desktop capability, which lets you use any Internet-connected computer to log on to a Mesh computer or phone and control it. Unlike Sync, Live Mesh is firmly based in the cloud: You can log on to the Mesh website and access your synchornized data. Perhaps most significantly, Live Mesh has an API, so developers can write programs that (at least in theory) take advantage of the Mesh capabilities.

The mashup didn't go smoothly. Microsoft had naming problems -- the combined product went from Mesh to Sync to Mesh again. Then there was the storage limitation. At first Microsoft said storage would be limited to 2GB, then to 5GB. Typical Microsoft marketing nits.

The big problems go far deeper.

This new Windows Live Mesh doesn't support Windows XP. Full stop. If you have an XP computer that you want to include in your sharing and syncing, you have to use a competitive (some would say "better") tool, such as DropBox.

The new Windows Live Mesh doesn't work with Windows Mobile -- you can't mesh with a phone. It doesn't have an API, so developers can't fix Mesh's problems. Migrating from the old Sync or Mesh to the new Mesh is fraught with problems. Windows Live Photo Gallery doesn't do Mesh. Gallery users are stuck in a disconnected parallel universe.

Which brings me to the biggest problem of all: the storage disconnect. Windows Live Office/Office Web Apps and Windows Live Photo Gallery both use Windows Live SkyDrive for their storage. It's easy to stick a file in SkyDrive, change it with an Office Web App, then pull it back down to your PC, for example. Upload a photo with Windows Live Photo Gallery and it goes into SkyDrive no sweat. But heaven help ya if you want to open a Mesh file with an Office Web App, or touch it up with Gallery, or attach a Mesh file to a Hotmail message.

SkyDrive and Mesh are completely separate. They're both cloud storage. Both from Microsoft. Both accessible via a browser. But when it comes to working with files ensconced in each, they're on different planets. SkyDrive is SkyDrive and Mesh is Mesh, and never the twain shall meet.

Microsoft has three completely independent cloud storage systems, and they don't talk to each other, much less work with each other. Windows Live Hotmail offers unlimited storage. SkyDrive has 25GB. Mesh has 5GB. Why? What were they thinking?

This article, "Windows Live Mesh: Out of sync," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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