Live Mesh – the key to the cloud?


Live Mesh – the key to the cloud?

About a year ago I wrote a piece about my initial experiences and first impressions of Microsoft Live Mesh. Essentially I was a huge fan and remain so. In fact I’m now even more excited about the technology and can see it playing a crucial role in the advent of, and successful transition to, cloud-based computing.

This might seem surprising. After all, the way I saw the Live Mesh beta back then, and use it today, is as a glorified data synchronization service. Set up your mesh across multiple systems and you can essentially forget about it: Live Mesh gets to work behind-the-scenes, automatically ensuring that the most recent versions of all your important files are there ready-to-go on whichever of your desktop or notebook systems you happen to be using.

In fact it looks like Live Mesh is a great example of why we don’t need the cloud.  After all, the great advantage of the cloud is that it provides universal access to your current files, but its big disadvantages are that this is only true if you have internet access and that, when you do, you are limited to using lightweight Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). With Live Mesh you get the great benefit of cloud computing but in the online/offline context of local computing and with the major pluses that your precious files remain actual rather than virtual and that you can always use your full-blown desktop applications to edit them.

This is right, but it’s missing out an important element: the Live Desktop. In daily use this is easy to overlook, but it’s important to realise that the way that Live Mesh works its magic is by automatically copying all of your updated files to and from central server-based storage whenever your local systems are connected to the internet.

This Live Desktop doesn’t just act as your central data clearing-house. While you can generally ignore it in current daily use, the fact that your files are stored online and kept live (rather than in some inaccessible backup format) means that in an emergency you can easily get at them, say from an internet cafe or if your office gets flooded.

In other words, via the Live Desktop, Live Mesh adds two other major cloud-based benefits: simple online backup and truly universal access (hopefully with built-in versioning to come). Again though it does so in the context of local computing. So where does the cloud come in?

The point is that as soon as you sign up to Live Mesh, and almost without realising it, you’re automatically storing all of your data online in the cloud. This isn’t just useful for synchronisation and backup – it’s also potentially very useful for work. In particular, with the coming generation of Office-lite RIAs your Live Desktop should be able to become just that – a live, cloud-based alternative platform to your local desktop.

I wrote “alternative platform” and in the longer term that may prove to be the case. However, I think that the real significance of the Live Desktop is as an extension of your local desktop rather than as its replacement.

And the real beauty of Live Mesh is that it should make your Live Desktop a seamless and painless extension. In particular, just as it does today in a local context, Live Mesh could automatically remove the hassle of manually synchronising data to and from the cloud. Work on the most recent version of a file on your Live Desktop with a lightweight, cloud-based device using a lightweight RIA and, when you next open your full-blown desktop or notebook, it’s this new edited version that will automatically open into your full-blown desktop app.

Currently much of the resistance to the idea of cloud computing comes from the assumption that such a fundamental paradigm shift in working practice must inherently involve ditching current desktop-based local computing and that we’d therefore end up losing far more than we’d gain. If the initial premise were true, I’d agree wholeheartedly. However I don’t think that this is an either/or argument.

Thanks to Live Mesh, or some similar technology from other interested parties such as Google, cloud computing can automatically become a seamless extension of local computing and vice versa. With “here, there, anywhere” data handling, we shouldn’t have to choose one over the other, but can instead enjoy the benefits of both.

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