Microsoft Tiptoes Ahead on Live Mesh

Microsoft this week broadened its preview of Live Mesh, allowing more users to get an early glimpse of the much-discussed device- and data-synchronization service.

The company this week quietly doubled the number of users who can participate in the preview, while dropping participation requirements other than simply having a Windows Live ID.

Microsoft, which made the announcement on its Live Mesh community forum, has not said how many users it will ultimately allow to test the service, which has been widely touted by Microsoft brass as an integral part of the company’s future online-centric offerings.

The news also follows Friday’s release of an update for the preview that enables syncing of folders between devices without taking up any of users’ online disk quota.

Those developments mark what Microsoft observers say is a ramping-up of activity behind Live Mesh in advance of Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October, where the software colossus is expected to reveal a number of new additions to the technology.

“This initial preview is pretty cool but it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Kip Kniskern, staff writer with Windows Live enthusiast site, told “There’s a lot of information coming out between now and the PDC.”

The ultimate scope of Live Mesh — of which Microsoft has only revealed a few tantalizing details — remains unclear, however.

What’s known is that Live Mesh is a pet product of Microsoft’s chief software architect, Ray Ozzie — and one that he, as well as many company watchers, view as crucial to the company’s future as more and more services are provided to users online, in “the cloud.”

Ozzie described some of the goals of Live Mesh in April, when he rolled out a limited-function preview release. He is also scheduled to give the opening keynote at the PDC in October.

As Ozzie described it, Live Mesh represents Microsoft’s vision of interconnected devices and services, in which all devices can communicate with each other — creating what’s called the “device mesh” in the company’s lexicon.

More specifically, the plan entails devices and PCs synchronizing all kinds of data, from music and pictures to calendars and other information, using communication, management and storage services provided in the cloud.

Based on that underlying framework, Ozzie has described a number of more advanced scenarios, such as called a social mesh — seamlessly sharing content with others across devices and services.

Even at what seems like an early stage of executing on this vision, Live Mesh is receiving a thumbs-up from Microsoft observers.

“It’s a pretty powerful remote desktop because it goes through firewalls and ties up to the Live Desktop in the cloud [so that] you’re able to sync files with the computer in the cloud or to your own computer,” Kniskern said.

One important piece of the Live Mesh technology puzzle — its developer platform — is slated to debut at the PDC, according to a Microsoft blog post.

Also coming soon is support for mobile clients, as well Mac computers, according to the service’s Web page.

“I would think that there are going to be a lot more devices [supported over time],” Kniskern said. For example, one likely candidate might be Microsoft’s Windows Home Server product.

“I would expect Xbox [support] too, making it more of an entertainment platform than just a game box,” he added.

Besides doubling the number of preview participants for the Live Mesh preview, Microsoft also published directions for international users who are willing to change their Windows operating system region and language setting to EN-US in order to enroll in the preview.

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