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Microsoft Details Its 'Mesh' Vision

Microsoft has taken the wraps off an early version of its new Live Mesh online connectivity and synchronization service.

The announcement, which includes the release of a "limited" technology preview of Live Mesh, was made in a blog post by Amit Mital, general manager of Live Mesh Tuesday night. Mital is also scheduled to show Mesh off late in the day Wednesday during a presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

The announcement has been expected for some time, and pundits have been weighing in with predictions on precisely what Live Mesh would provide in recent days and weeks.

Live Mesh is Microsoft's vision of a personal interconnected world. In that world, all devices can communicate with each other -- called the "device mesh" in Microsoft's lexicon -- and synchronize all kinds of data among devices -- dubbed the "social mesh" -- via communications capabilities, management functions, and storage services provided "in the cloud."

"We examined many of the ways the Web is becoming more central to us -- both workstyle and lifestyle," Mital said in his blog post. "Devices are how we interact in this new 'Web connected' world and we use a variety of them, including PCs, laptops, media devices, phones, digital picture frames, game consoles, music players and the list grows."

The idea is that all of a user's devices should be able to connect into a centralized service in the cloud that will provide unified management and synchronization of devices, data, and applications in a seamless and transparent (to the user) fashion.

If the company executes well and it takes off, Live Mesh has the potential to provide the kinds of services that would make Microsoft's software-plus-services initiative more than just renting business apps over the Web or using a browser-based Live service to manage photos online, according to one analyst.

"My initial impression is one of encouragement bordering on excitement," Jonathan Yarmis, vice president of disruptive technologies at analyst firm AMR Research, "The problem they're trying to solve is one that many of us experience," he said, noting that at that moment he was carrying a laptop, a mobile phone, a BlackBerry, an MP3 player, and a GPS unit.

A notable initiative

Live Mesh is one of the most notable initiatives so far to come on deck during Ray Ozzie's short tenure as Microsoft's chief software architect -- a role that he took over from chairman Bill Gates nearly two years ago.

In fact, Ozzie described the central tenants of Live Mesh this week in a memo outlining how Live Mesh fits into Microsoft's software-plus-services vision.

"To individuals, the concept of 'My Computer' will give way to the concept of a personal mesh of devices -- a means by which all of your devices are brought together, managed through the web, as a seamless whole," Ozzie's memo said. "After identifying a device as being 'yours,' its configuration and personalization settings, its applications and their own settings, and the data it carries will be seamlessly available and synchronized across your mesh of devices," he added.

Though acknowledging that the technology preview released Wednesday is early code, the company did not provide a timeline for commercial delivery of Live Mesh. However, Ozzie did reveal that Live Mesh will become a part of Microsoft's Windows Live.

Additionally, given Ozzie's -- and Microsoft's -- penchant for taking a platform orientation, it should not surprise veteran Microsoft watchers that Live Mesh will also provide a comprehensive platform for developers.

"This vision is being realized today in our .NET family of runtimes including .NET Framework and Silverlight, supported by Expression Studio for designers and Visual Studio for developers, enabling developers to leverage their skills across all these environments," Ozzie's memo said.

Additionally, Live Mesh is aiming to support a common set of application programming interfaces, or APIs.

"The Live Mesh platform exposes a number of core services including some Live Services that can all be accessed using the Live Mesh API; these include storage (online and offline), membership, sync, peer-to-peer communication and newsfeed," Mital said in his blog post.

"The programming model is the same for the cloud and all connected devices, which means a Live Mesh application works exactly the same regardless of whether itís running in the cloud, in a browser, on a desktop, or on a mobile device," Mital continued. A software developers kit will be available "in the near future," he added.

Initially, the technology preview will only support Windows XP and Vista, and for the first few months, only English. In the near future, Microsoft plans to add support for the Mac and mobile devices, Mital said.

That leaves several unanswered questions, not the least of which is when Live Mesh will actually become available. But AMR Research's Yarmis suggested patience may be needed.

"It's really early on ... it's incomplete device support and incomplete functionality [in the preview] so it's as much of a tease as it is a solution," Yarmis added. "In terms of the vision, it's got a long way to go, but you've got to start somewhere."

However, Yarmis thinks this might just be the right solution at the right time.

"We've spent all this time trying to solve this at a client level but now we're seeing someone say, 'No, it has to be done at the architectural level.'"

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