Leaving Live Mesh and the mess Microsoft is in

Written by Alex Watson

November 20, 2009 | 11:24

Tags: #cloud-computing #sync

Companies: #google #microsoft

It’s not often PC Pro gets the drop on us in terms of new technology (unless you’re into laser printers), but they were well ahead when it came to Microsoft’s Live Mesh, and prompted by their enthusiastic praise, I gave it a try.

Live Mesh really is pretty nifty; sign up for an account, add your computer to 'the Mesh' (your own of group of machines) and any folders you select are uploaded to the servers. You can then access these folders and files via a web browser, or – and this is the brilliant bit – set them to by synced across multiple computers. Make a change to a file on one PC, and it’ll be uploaded to the servers, then downloaded when the other machines turn on so they all mirror each other.

For a while, in fact, it was so good, I wondered if it was the start of a turnaround for Microsoft.
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Unfortunately, I think Live Mesh more accurately points out some of Microsoft’s current problems. Here’s why: good as it is, it’s far from great. In reality, it’s under-developed, failing to deliver on its potential and one that strategically must be very hard to justify for Microsoft if it really thought about it.

First, the good: Well, Mesh works. It works on Windows, it works on Macs, and it works in lots of browsers. It’s quick, and it does-what-it-says-on-the-tin: files in my ‘Custom PC’ folder on my PC appear on my Mac at home in the evening. It's simple and reasonably clutter free - you can add a folder to the Mesh just by right-clicking on it - and you're not plagued by endless notifications and pop-ups. Mesh just gets on with the job.

Magic.

Leaving Live Mesh and the mess Microsoft is in
Live Mesh works across PCs and Macs

There are problems though.

Biggest is the fact there’s no way to get more storage. You get 5GB for free, and that's it. No more, no less. Given how easy it is to shoot a couple of gigabytes worth of photos on a single afternoon, or to acquire gigabytes of music, with 5GB you’re basically limited to documents.

Updates are a long time coming – support for Mac OS X Snow Leopard took almost two months.

There’s no iPhone or Android app. If you share links to files with people, they need a Windows Live login to get them. There’s no support for saving different versions of files. (All of these features are offered by competitors such as DropBox and Sugar Sync).

Leaving Live Mesh and the mess Microsoft is in
Smaller rivals such as DropBox and Sugar Sync have surpassed Live Mesh's features and flexibility

Live Mesh was my first real experiment with ‘cloud’ storage, and I really liked it, but as soon as you start exploring other options, it becomes apparent that either Live Mesh is a rather half-hearted attempt to get into online storage, or it’s Microsoft playing around, testing technologies it’s later going to use in other products.

Either way, from the customer's point of view, it's limited. While Live Mesh is likely, thanks to the Microsoft name, to attract lots of first timers to the world of online storage, it’s also likely that many of those people, like me, will encounter its limitations and look elsewhere. I made the move to Sugar Sync last month and haven’t looked back.

In some ways, it seems a missed opportunity on Microsoft’s part, because in Live Mesh it has a good product that it could easily build into a great one.

In other ways though, perhaps it’s not - perhaps Mesh hasn’t seen any investment because the company already has two other cloud storage products – Windows Live Sync and SkyDrive.

Perhaps Mesh hasn’t seen any investment because frankly, Microsoft isn't really convinced it needs a cloud storage business. After all, is it really key for a company that makes its money with Windows and Office - or does Mesh exist just because there are rumours of a Google product, dubbed Gdrive?

Live Mesh is neither great nor terrible, and seems like a service on a road to nowhere in particular.
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