Microsoft reveals Mesh folder-sharing and sync platform

Live Mesh lets people share data folders across different PCs and devices -- even gain access to their home PCs from any computer

Microsoft revealed a Web-based service on Tuesday, called Live Mesh, that lets people share data folders across different PCs and devices.

Live Mesh is both a development platform and a folder-sharing and synchronizing service for end users, according to Amit Mital, general manager of Live Mesh. From a Web-based Live Desktop, users can set devices or PCs to have access to different folders stored both on the devices and on the Web.

Using the desktop, users can set preferences for what machines or devices they want to make "a part of the mesh," Mital said. Once they set a preference, software will be downloaded to that machine or device to activate it on the mesh.

Once a device or PC is activated, users can set what folders from that machine they want to be stored online. If they update folder content in Live Mesh, devices and PCs on the mesh will be updated with the changes the next time they are connected to the Web. Similarly, if information is changed locally on the device, then once the device goes online again, folders will be synchronized across devices on the entire mesh.

"The whole idea, from an experience perspective, is you still have access to documents online and offline, and we take care of the changes," Mital said.

Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie first introduced the idea of a mesh that could leverage the Web to connect devices, entertainment, business, and development at the company's MIX 08 conference in Vegas in March. Microsoft is expected to officially unveil Live Mesh at the Mesh It Up event at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

Users also can directly access and control any devices within their mesh through Live Remote Desktop, a feature of Live Mesh built on the capabilities of Windows Remote Desktop. For example, users can gain access to their home PCs from any computer by logging on to Live Mesh.

In addition to letting users set Live Mesh preferences for their own devices, people also can use the service as a collaboration tool, allowing people in their trusted network to access certain folders or files stored on their personal Live Mesh service.

Microsoft envisions Mesh as not only a helpful service to end users, but also a way developers can quickly build applications to enhance the experience of sharing and synchronizing files among devices, Mital said. As an example, Mital said an application built on the platform could allow users to establish a central storage place for data that they upload on various Web sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The scenario he presented Tuesday sounded similar to how developers can easily build applications for the social-networking site Facebook and allow users to share those applications across the platform. Mital said Microsoft built Live Mesh on Web development technologies that are emerging as standards for Web 2.0 development -- such as representational state transfer (REST) and Atom Syndication Format -- that any developer has access to and can use.

Facebook has found a viable business model in advertising-supported social networking, so it may be that Microsoft is planning something similar for Live Mesh. Mital said Microsoft is considering several possible business models for Live Mesh, including using online advertising to support it or charging users a subscription fee to use it.

Microsoft is giving 10,000 users access to the Live Mesh preview by invitation, through a Windows Live ID. Initially, the service will be available only for PCs or laptops running Windows XP or Vista; in a few months, Microsoft will make Live Mesh available for Mac users and also mobile devices, beginning with the Windows Mobile platform. Eventually, devices such as the Zune, Xbox, and digital photo frames could also be part of Live Mesh.

Mital acknowledged that once mobile devices can be added to Live Mesh, user access will be limited to the presentation and application capabilities of the devices. Microsoft is also working on a way to display an image of a document, such as an Excel document, from Live Mesh on a phone's browser so that users can at least view a document, he said.

Nancy Gohring in Seattle contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.