"Well, This Is Another Nice Mesh You've Got Me Into"

Take a walk through the Microsoft Live Mesh beta

That famous line from camp comedy great Oliver Hardy was uttered in a negative sense, but now in the modern time of "applications in the cloud," we really are in a "nice mesh." What am I referring to? Well, it's been a few years now that we citizens of the Internet have been offered free software utilities that have given us options for our daily computer life. At the beginning of the decade, many of us scoffed when certain vendors proclaimed in the industry press that the "computer is the Internet." The very thought of ceding control from our UNIX, Novell and Microsoft networks—not to mention the applications that ran on them—was frightening.

For a company like Microsoft, Internet apps were truly their nemesis. Microsoft purchased Hotmail in 1997, and for the majority of Internet users this was the first application in the cloud that they used. But when Google established a large Internet audience, the time came for a release of all sorts of applications on the Net that we would now call cloud applications. Microsoft's experience with the insidious landing of a toolbar in its browser and the advent of Gmail, Google Docs, and other competitive cloud applications, can only be described as an invasion. In fact if it was a sci-fi movie, we could call this period "Google Attacks."

Now we're in a time period that could be a movie called "Microsoft Strikes Back." With the Windows Live initiative, many of us industry watchers wondered how far Microsoft would pursue the concept of providing useful applications on the Net for Windows Live subscribers. In the meantime, we've seen the .NET Framework mature and Microsoft's browser assimilate the best of other innovations in the browser space. We love to see innovation, but Microsoft seems to absorb the best results from these sojourners of new technology ideas and incorporates them into its mainstream software. From this tech's viewpoint, Microsoft Live Mesh is a great answer to Google Docs.

What is Live Mesh? It can be described as a cloud application in the sense that it provides a "live desktop" in the cloud. Software is downloaded to your local machine, which is defined in Live Mesh beta as a device. The first thing you notice is that there is an intuitive method to have you start creating folders on this "desktop in the cloud," and you have the option of having counterparts of these containers created on your Live Mesh desktop (called the Live Desktop)—or as I like to call it, the Meshtop.

Live Desktop

Microsoft has reason to be proud of the technical success in this application. In fact, Ray Ozzie and Dave Treadwell had the honor of receiving a Crunchies 2008 Award earlier this year.

It shows that Microsoft can produce an "I'll do ya one betta" response to Google's cloud apps. It also indicates that being first is not always an advantage—after all, many guitar players started playing Chuck Berry's guitar licks, but most of us still emulate Clapton and Hendrix, whether we know it or not. So it goes with the cloud applications that are now appearing from Microsoft.

Going deeper into the Meshtop, we quickly see the tabs and click Devices. This displays to us a "ring" of Device resources. These include all desktops and laptops where we have the Live Mesh client installed. Eventually, we'll even have access to our mobile phone devices and Mac desktops via Live Mesh.

Live Mesh devices list

Similar to the behavior of IM, all clients that are potentially accessible are displayed in the ring. If a device isn't powered on, it's displayed as offline. A user can bring a device into the context of the Choice area and can use two provided options to either rename or delete this device from the ring on the Meshtop.

"Ring" of Live Mesh devices

So what are the advantages of being the lord of this ring? Well this allows us to remotely connect to these resources, work with remote desktops, and gain access to files on those devices, including the option to transfer files from the devices to our Meshtop. As I'm writing this, I'm waiting for my long-delayed flight in the Virginia Beach Airport. Just a day ago, I was speaking at the Mark Minasi Forum Conference about hybrid solutions using cloud applications. As I was displaying the features of Live Mesh, some in the audience had fearful reaction regarding security in their networks. Others saw a new array of options for collaboration.

Now it would not serve any useful purpose to connect to the device that is the laptop I am already using to type this. Let's look at a demonstration of connecting to a remote Live Mesh resource, as I connect to one of my devices in another city a few hundred miles away.

Connecting to another device in your mesh

Now, without a Terminal Server CAL, I'm connected to my Windows Vista Ultimate machine. I'm given the options to send a Ctrl+Alt+Delete to the machine to log on to the desktop, run full-screen mode, and transfer files. In a few moments, I have access to my remote machine and all of this over a wireless card.

Accessing a remote system via Live Mesh

When I subscribed to the Live Mesh beta, I took the option of having 5GB of storage for folders on my Meshtop, which is fine for transferring files in general or an ISO file and perhaps even the occasional DVD that I might need in a pinch.

Regarding the folders you create, you can invite other users on the Net to have access to these folders with different roles. To do so, you open a folder that you created and invite other users to receive the roles of Owner, Reader, or Contributor.

Inviting members to access a folder

When changes are made to these folders, the Live Mesh account owner is notified of the change, whether it's a contribution or a deletion.

I can also see any news of changes in the News tab. Similar to the activities we would see in Twitter, the News tab displays all the actions that have occurred in the folders historically. Now this is a beta, and the wish list is already long. So I hope that, in a future Live Mesh version, Microsoft provides some method to manage the history. Some questions and concerns about a new application like this are valid. I will try to address those concerns in a later article. For now, I like this Mesh I'm into, and I hope you give it a try as well.

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