Microsoft unveils Live Mesh, but there are still some holes

There’s been a lot of speculation about Live Mesh, Microsoft’s tool for synchronizing data and applications across multiple computers and devices. Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie announced the product in March, but details were pretty sparse. Now the world has its first chance to see Live Mesh at work with the Live Mesh Technology Preview, a very early (i.e., pre-beta test) version of the product.

Sync technology is heating up, because it promises that users can eventually create and access data on any device, anywhere. In just the last couple of months, a bunch of startups — including Syncplicity, Sharpcast and Dropbox — have rolled out their sync products. Still, you’d think that with vast resources and two years of development, Microsoft should blow the little startup fish out of the water. From what I’ve seen, that isn’t the case. Not yet, anyway.

To be clear, I didn’t get to play with the preview itself. Instead, Microsoft gave me an outline of what it’s unveiling today. Basically, this version of Live Mesh works similarly to other sync products. You install it, add devices to the network, then decide which folders will be synced. Whenever you change a folder on one device, it will be updated across your network. There are some other neat features too: a Mesh Bar to keep track of your activity, folders you can sync with your friends, Live Desktop to access your network from a web browser and Live Remote Desktop to control any of the devices in your network remotely.

It sounds like a solid sync offering, and if it were created by a startup, I’d be pretty darn impressed. But there’s nothing here that’s going to take over the world overnight. That’s why Microsoft seems to be emphasizing the idea of Live Mesh as a platform, through which third-party developers can build new applications using Microsoft’s sync technology. Again, that’s not unique to Mesh; Sharpcast, for example, has similar ambitions. (Sharpcast chief executive Gibu Thomas argues that Microsoft is also disadvantaged because it appears to be a wee bit biased towards Windows. After all, to be truly effective, sync should work well across operating systems.)

But Microsoft has the advantage of being, well, Microsoft, so it’s probably safe to say it won’t be overlooked by developers. The company says there are four principles underlying the platform. Services like sync, peer-to-peer communication and membership are the core; those services can be accessed using the same application programming interface; there’s an extendable data model and application makers aren’t limited to a single development model.

At this early stage, it’s hard to say much about the platform. And since that platform looks to be Mesh’s biggest selling point, our outlook hasn’t changed: Wait and see.