Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Thoughts on Live Mesh

I've been watching some videos today on Microsoft's new Live Mesh platform. I have to say that this looks like it has potential to be really good. I've avoided a lot of the Microsoft Live offerings so far, but this is the first one that I am really looking forward to trying out.

Folder Synchronization

Having recently bought a laptop, the challenge of keeping data synchronized between the three computers I use has become quite difficult. I am overly reliant on a 2GB USB stick that would be a disaster if I lost. I use Google Docs quite a lot as well, but don't want to store things on there that I could not do without if I lost Internet connectivity.

So not only will Live Mesh give the benefit of making it very easy to access all my source code, music, photos and documents from any of the computers I use, but it also has a superb secondary benefit of allowing offsite backups of all my most important data. Last year I lost quite a few MP3s due to a blunder reinstalling Windows XP, but I was fortunately able to restore most of them thanks to them being on my work PC. If I had been using folder synchronization, everything would have been recovered.

Remote Desktop Access

Another great feature is the remote desktop access available from any web browser. This is another killer feature, and while it isn't one that I would be using a lot, there are plenty of scenarios where it would save me a huge amount of time.

For example, my ISP rather annoyingly blocks FTP access to my webspace unless I am connecting via my home broadband connection. This means that if I want to make a minor tweak to my site during my lunch hour at work, or while I am on holiday I can't.

It's a Platform

The Microsoft employees were keen to emphasise that Live Mesh is not really about folder sharing and remote desktop access but that it is a platform for future applications to be built on. A good example of a possible future application would be a web browser bookmark synchronizer.

I guess how much it takes off will depend upon how easy it is to program for the platform, and how easy it is for end users to sign up. I will have to wait and see because there is a waiting list at the moment.

Will it work?

Obviously, there are file sharing and remote desktop applications already out there. The success of Live Mesh will be based on whether you can simply install it and it "just works". I do have a couple of concerns though...

1. Capacity

Currently Microsoft are offering 5GB free space. This is of course very generous, but obviously could be used up very quickly. In the video they suggested that eventually it would be possible to synchronize between computers but not store things in the cloud, but that at first you would always have to use the cloud. I would think they need to remove this limitation as soon as possible.

Secondly, if the service could offer additional storage space for a suitably modest fee, this could become ideal for offsite backup.

2. Merging

None of the videos I watched said anything about merging and conflicts. It would be interesting to know what the intention is on this front.

3. Bandwidth

My biggest concern is with bandwidth. My ISP gives me 8GB per month with unlimited downloads overnight. Some laptop users have USB modems that transmit data over mobile phone networks and have even more restricted monthly bandwidth.

I guess once you have performed the initial sync of your folders, bandwidth use would not necessarily be too high, but it would be very useful to be able to throttle bandwidth, or even schedule syncing to be at certain times, with only files that are needed being synchronised at other times. It would also be good if it had the intelligence to synchronise computers that are on the same LAN without going through the Internet. Otherwise I could see myself using my entire month's bandwidth up within a day or so of installing the software.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What about you? Are you planning to use Live Mesh?

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