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Windows Live Essentials 2011: Windows Live Sync

Windows Live Essentials 2011
Windows Live Sync

Until now, Microsoft has offered two online services that do basically the same thing, Live Mesh and Windows Live Sync. Both offered a way to keep directories of files in sync between multiple PCs, so if you edited, added, or deleted files on one PC, those changes would be instantly replicated to the others. Live Mesh was the preferred service, however, because it offered a few features Live Sync lacked, including remote desktop capabilities and a web desktop with 5 GB of free online storage. Indeed, I've used Live Mesh for years, and relied on it during the writing of my past three books. It's never let me down.

Still, something had to give, and there have been rumors for years that Live Mesh and Live Sync would one day merge into a single product. From Microsoft's perspective, this seems to have been a case of "let the best service win." And today, it's pretty clear which service won: Live Mesh. So, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present the new Live Mesh. It's called Live Sync.


You're forgiven for being surprised and confused, because this situation is both surprising and confusing. The short version is that Microsoft killed Live Sync, and updated Live Mesh and renamed it to Live Sync. Put another way, Live Mesh is gone, but there's a new version of Live Sync that is based on Live Mesh.

Practically speaking, if you've been using Live Mesh, as I have, you will have a bit of work to do. When you install the new Windows Live Essentials on a PC on which Live Mesh is already installed, you'll be notified that Live Mesh needs to be uninstalled. (The Essentials installer will do this for you.) And whatever synced folders you've configured will need to be re-configured later for the new Live Sync.

Sadly, some things have changed for the worse. The Mesh web desktop is gone, so you lose the 5 GB of online storage that, in Live Mesh, was completely unattached from Microsoft's online storage service, SkyDrive. No problem, right? The new Live Sync must allow you to sync with SkyDrive, which comes with a voluminous 25 GB of free storage. Right?

It does, sort of. The new Live Sync does let you synchronize content between your synced PCs and SkyDrive, but only 2 GB worth for some reason. And as always, there's no way to pay for more storage if you want it. So even though SkyDrive offers ample storage, the amount of content you can sync to the web has actually gone down in this release. I didn't see that one coming.

Windows Live Sync 2011

Where Microsoft taketh away, Microsoft also giveth. Live Sync retains the remote desktop functionality from Live Mesh, which looks and works about the same as its predecessor. (And it includes the ability to copy and paste files between the remote and local environments.) And it adds some very, very basic capabilities around settings synchronization, a bit of functionality that was promised for Live Mesh but never delivered. And when I say basic, I mean basic. Live Sync can sync settings for exactly two applications between PCs: Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office. For IE, that means Favorites only, including the Favorites bar if you're using IE 8. And in Office, this means email signatures, styles, and templates. There's no way to configure these features, you can just turn them on or off. And as for extensibility--i.e. the ability to sync settings for other applications--there's no hint of that.

Live Mesh had a nice site online for managing devices, and Live Sync has a slightly less nice site, though you can now change the icon for individual PCs and add a phone, for limited SMS-based access to Windows Live-based Messenger access, email alerts, and other alerts, via Windows Live Alerts.

Windows Live Sync 2011

Folders synced with Live Sync are no longer obviously special: With Live Mesh, they were colored blue, but now they're just regular folders. And there's no folder ornamentation, as there was with Live Mesh, so when the folder is open, there's no way to tell it's a synced folder either.

All in all, this update is somewhat disappointing. It includes the basic functionality I've grown used to from Live Mesh, but I'm surprised that the web storage allotment has gone down instead of up. What Microsoft should offer is a way to manage how SkyDrive storage can be divided, between Sync, emailed photo galleries, explicitly-stored photo galleries, and other content. And of course the company really needs to provide a way to purchase addition storage. Until it does so, this service will provide the basics only, which is good, but not as good as it could be.

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