Microsoft Live Mesh: Gateway to Paradise
And so regular listeners to the PC Pro podcast, and anyone who read our Ten Techs to Watch in 2009 feature, will know that we really rather like Microsoft’s Live Mesh utility. But we haven’t actually written anything specifically about it yet, so I’m going to tell you why Microsoft has, for the first time ever, produced a piece of software that I would call brilliant. Honestly, genuinely brilliant. It's currently in beta but that doesn't mean you should waste any time in installing it.
What you do is, you visit the Live Mesh website, sign in with your Windows Live ID (annoying but important), and then click on Add Device in the resulting page:
This lets you download a little installer – it really is quite small at 1.6MB. Double-click it when it's downloaded and the Live Mesh client installs itself without fuss (although your desktop might flash once or twice as it installs itself into the Windows shell).
Now, you can right-click on any folder on your system and select 'Add folder to Live Mesh'.
The folder will then go blue. The contents of the folder have been whisked into the much ballyhooed internet cloud, to be stored on Microsoft’s servers somewhere. The folder contents aren’t moved - only copied - but changes, additions and deletions from the local folder are reflected in the version living in the cloud, more or less immediately.
Now pop to a different PC and go through the same two-minute install process. Click the little Live Mesh icon in the tray and hit the Folders icon. You’ll get a list of every folder that you’ve added to your mesh.
This is the good part: click on a folder, hit Okay in the dialog that pops up and that folder gets pulled down from the cloud and replicated on the desktop (or elsewhere if you prefer) on the local machine. And just like on the originating machine, changes, additions and deletions on the files in that folder are reflected in the cloud-bound version, and pushed back down to any other PCs that have that folder added to their mesh.
That means Live Mesh is not a backup tool – it won’t save you from a virus deleting files, or your own clumsiness if you overwrite a vital file with an empty one. What it does mean is that your data is freed from the shackles of a particular PC and becomes available anywhere, on any PC with an internet connection. Live Mesh is essentially a portal onto your important folders, letting you open them, edit the contents and get to them anywhere you like without restriction. If you don't have installation rights on the computer you're using, you can get to the files via the 'mesh desktop' view in a browser.
This has changed the working life not only of me but several other members of the PC Pro team. We no longer have to remember to take files home on a flash drive, or email them to ourselves. And no longer is there any problem with synchronisation, since in effect you’re not working on copies of your files remotely, you’re working on the actual file itself (with a delay of a few seconds while changes get uploaded to the servers and then replicated out).
As long as you haven’t left a document open, you can go home, open that document, work on it, save it and close it as usual. When you get to your office machine in the morning, the file is there just where it was before. No explicit synching, no fuss and no thought required. It's flippin' marvellous.
Your folders follow you everywhere – it’s the data that matters, and that’s the way it should be.
If none of this sounds terribly compelling, you’ve hit the problem with Live Mesh: it’s hard to convey its fabness - you need to try it. If you have more than one PC and you ever need to get access to the same file on them, you need Live Mesh. Fact.