First impressions of Live Mesh – wow!

Like many computer users I have a couple of systems for work and home use and a notebook for travelling and pretending to work in the garden. And of course Sod’s law means that whichever computer you are currently using is the one without the data that you need.

The solution is to have some sort of synchronization system. Most users rely on copying files to physical middlemen such as CD-RWs and USB sticks or to virtual middlemen such as FTP sites or online services such as BT’s Digital Vault or Acrobat.com. However this manual approach is awkward and unreliable. Really the system needs to be automatic. Which is where Microsoft’s Live Mesh comes in.

Sign up to this free service from each of your computers (currently Vista and XP with Mac support set to follow) and then in Windows Explorer right-click on any folder and you can add it to your mesh and set it to automatically synchronize across all of your devices. This means that, within a minute or so of closing any file in one of your local mesh folders, it is automatically copied to your Live Desktop – which then acts as a universally accessible online backup – as well as to all of your internet-connected devices.

What this means in practice is that your most up-to-date files are simply there on your local system ready to go. Once set up, the synchronisation is so transparent that you simply come to expect all of your files to be there waiting whenever you want them, wherever you are and whichever device you are using. It’s a fantastic advance, but the system isn’t actually magic.

In fact, unless you remember how Live Mesh works and act accordingly, it can let you down – badly. To begin with, you need to remember that data outside your designated folders is outside the mesh, and while the 5GB limit is generous for Office-style files it doesn’t begin to cover all of a user’s data.  You also need to realise that open files are also out of the loop. Fail to close a file at work and it won’t be there waiting for you at home. Worse, if you go in the next day and save the open file when you close it, it will overwrite any version that you have worked on in the meantime across all of your systems and online backup too!

These are important issues to bear in mind and I strongly advise that you close files whenever you’ve finished working on them and keep renaming them too to provide basic versioning and backup. Alternatively stick to a manual transfer drop folder rather than automatically synching your work folders.

However files that fall outside the synchronization mesh prove less of a problem than they would have, thanks to Live Mesh’s most extraordinary capability. Log on to your Live Mesh using a browser and, using the Remote Desktop feature, you can take direct control of any connected live system (sorry but you’ll have to switch off hibernation). Load a remote copy of Windows Explorer and you have copy and paste access to all of the data on your hard disk. Even better, you have access to all of your applications – if a file is open remotely you can simply log in to shut it down. Come to that, you can carry on working on it remotely using applications you don’t have locally.

The future implications of Live Mesh’s Remote Desktop are massive – has the promised era of home working and thin computing arrived by the backdoor? However these are questions for the future. For the moment I have a more pressing issue: Live Mesh has lived up to all expectations and far exceeded them in ways I hadn’t imagined, but am I really ready to trust the handling of my most valuable data to beta software from Microsoft? What about you?

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