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How-To: Live Mesh Peer-to-Peer Folder Sync

I've gotten enough email about this topic that I figured I should write something up. As you probably know, thanks to my constant comments about it on the SuperSite Blog and the Windows Weekly podcast, I'm a huge fan of Live Mesh (see my preview). Microsoft's burgeoning cloud computing platform currently offers two major bits of functionality, both of which are highly useful:

Folder sync. Live Mesh can automatically and immediately synchronize the contents of multiple folders between your various PCs and a Web-based Live Desktop. (Support for Macs and as-yet-unnamed mobile devices is forthcoming.)

Remote desktop. Live Mesh provides remote desktop functionality to all 32-bit Windows XP and all (32-bit and 64-bit) Windows Vista client PCs. This is interesting mostly because this functionality is usually relegated to the non-home versions of Windows, but the Live Mesh remote desktop feature works with all Windows versions.

The folder sync feature has dramatically changed my day-to-day workflow in just a few short months. I have work related folders--like "Articles I'm working on," "Docs," "Web site," and "Windows Vista Secrets 2E," as well as more personal folders such as "Favorites" (favorite photos), "iPhone wallpapers" (pictures formatted for the 320 x 480 iPhone screen), and "Music collection" (my entire 20 GB music collection).

Live Mesh's Web-based Live Desktop

That last bit is the subject of this article. Though Live Mesh operates largely like other folder sync solutions such as DropBox, there is one major difference: Rather than restrict you to an artificial storage limit, Live Mesh allows you to move well beyond the limits of Web-based storage as long as you don't mind peer-to-peer (P2P) sync from PC-to-PC. Mind it? In some cases, it's actually preferable.

Here's how it works, and how I use this feature.

Prior to a late July 2008 update, Live Mesh appeared to have a 5 GB storage limit. Truth is, this limit applied only to the Web-based Live Desktop. Once you exceeded that limit, future folder contents would simply sync PC-to-PC, to as many PCs as you had configured, in P2P mode. But starting with that July 2008 update, you can explicitly opt out of syncing specific folders to the Live Desktop. Those folders are thus synced P2P and are not restricted in size. (At least not that I've seen.)

Here's how I have my Live Mesh folders synced:

Articles I'm working on - Synced to all PCs and to the Live Desktop. Size: about 75 MB right now, but it obviously varies over time.

Docs - Contains "core" documents I use regularly, and is synced to all PCs and to the Live Desktop. Size: about 2 MB.

Favorites - Synced to all PCs and to the Live Desktop. (It's also synced to all iPods, iPhones, and the Apple TV via iTunes.) Size: about 1.5 GB.

iPhone wallpapers - Synced to all PCs and to the Live Desktop. (It's also synced to all iPods and iPhones via iTunes.) Size: about 3 MB.

Music collection - Contains only my music files (i.e. not audiobooks, TV shows, movies, or other iTunes-based content). It is synced only to specific PCs, such as my main desktop PC and the two laptops I recently took to Ireland. It is not synced to the Live Desktop. Size: about 20 GB.

Web site - Contains the local version of the SuperSite and Nexus Web sites. It is synced to all PCs and to the Live Desktop. Size: about 1.5 GB.

Windows Vista Secrets 2E - Contains the files associated with the second edition of my Windows Vista book. Will soon be taken off the Mesh as the work here is largely done. Synced to all PCs and to the Live Desktop. Size: about 250 MB.

Visiting the Live Desktop, I'm told that the 5 GB of Web store is about 53 percent full. But I'm syncing in excess of 24 GB of data. The trick is that the biggest chunk of it--the music collection--is not synced to the Live Desktop.

To configure this, you have to actually navigate to the Live Desktop with your Web browser. (That is, you cannot prevent a folder from syncing to the Live Desktop from a PC for some reason, though I expect Microsoft to add that obvious bit of functionality at some point.) Select the folder you want to prevent from syncing to the Web, right-click, and choose "change sync settings." In the Change Synchronization window that appears, select Live Desktop from the list of device and change its synchronization value to "Don't synchronize this device." Voila.

Configuring a folder not to sync with the Live Desktop

Final thoughts

Even in its current pre-release state, Live Mesh is incredibly useful and I've been using it to sync some hugely important work and personal data. It hasn't let me down. Live Mesh will only get better over time, which is amazing, and of course it will be opened up to people outside the US as well. I can't wait. But in the meantime, as-is, Live Mesh is something special. Enjoy.

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