On April 22nd, my team at Microsoft (Windows Live Core) released a limited public beta of new online service – Live Mesh. Since then, I read several online reviews about it and got some feedback from people I invited into the system. I found one interesting common trait – not all users/reviewers actually use all of the present capabilities of the system. That’s why I decided to review its main user visible features and how I use it, so it may be helpful to people interested in Live Mesh. A more detailed discussion can be found here.
Live Mesh is a service that allows accessing your data and devices from anywhere. It consists of a set of cloud and client side services. Cloud services manage user accounts, help your devices to find each other and connect to each other, provide cloud storage for your files (5GB at the moment). Client side services synchronize data between your devices, between your devices and the cloud storage, and provide remote access to your devices. Also, Live Mesh is a platform and when its SDK is released it will help developers in creating distributed applications that use synchronized user data. Applications will just read/write from/to local data objects that will be automatically synchronized by the service in the background.
From the user experience perspective, Live Mesh is exposed at the moment as 3 main things: file synchronization between user devices (computers, PDAs, mobile phones), remote access to computers (aka “Live Remote Desktop“) and the web desktop (aka “Live Desktop“) where people can see their files stored in “the cloud”.
Here is the screenshot of my “Live Desktop” that I can access from any web browser. You can see my Live Mesh folders with files on the left. 2 folders are opened. One of the folders has a train picture rendered by the SilverLight viewer.
Another opened folder has several subfolders and files. The companion window on its right shows news about activities in this folder, e.g. when stuff was added and messages from members of this folder (users that have access to it). On the right, you can see a pane window with my devices that are in my “Mesh”. I can remotely access these computers right from the web browser by clicking on “connect to device” links.
All people that I invited, started with their Live Desktops (it is the 1st feature users see when they sign up), but not all moved beyond it to the other 2 very interesting parts of Live Mesh – actual file sync and Live Remote. They are installed as part of the Live Mesh client (set of client side services), which is available via “Devices” button on your Live Desktop. This button leads to the famous device ring that by some reason all online reviews were focused on. If you click on “Add device” icon on the ring, you can get to the client setup.
After you install the client portion of Live Mesh and claim your computer on first sign in (claiming adds it to your Mesh of devices), the service starts synchronizing your files between the cloud, your other computers and this newly added computer. Here is the screenshot of my desktop with several Live Mesh Folders opened:
At the top part of my desktop, you can see the same folders as in my Live Desktop. 4 of them in solid colors are “mapped” to this computer and are synchronized by Live Mesh. 2 of them are shown as ghosted and even though they are available in the cloud they are not synchronized to this device. I can start synchronizing them by just double clicking on them. The window on the upper left shows all Live Mesh folders that I created or a member of. The middle window is the opened Live Mesh folder with its members on its right (users that have access to it). I can invite more people to this folder by clicking on “members” tab and entering their LiveID. In this case, they will get an email with a link that points to Live Desktop where they can accept my invitation and provision their user account if they don’t have one. Once they join this folder and install the Live Mesh client, they can map this folder to their desktops and get all its files and file changes. I share photos with my family this way – once I make new photos I just drop them to one of the synchronized folders and my family members can see them once they are synchronized to their computers. It is much more convenient than publishing photos one by one on online sites, the viewing experience is better, since photos can be nicely rendered by the desktop software in original resolutions and I can argue that it is more secure and private. I think that Live Mesh client UX clearly demostrates the advantage of Rich Internet Applications over web applications (even if they are Web 2.0 apps like Live Desktop).
The pane window on the right is the Live Mesh client UI and shows all my devices where I installed the client. I can see their status (online/offline) or remotely access them. You can see that Live Desktop is just another device in my “Mesh”. If I click on one of my computers (“connect to device” link), Live Remote Desktop starts and I can actually work on this computer remotely. Here is the screenshot of Live Remote with my home computer in it:
You can see the same Live Mesh Folders mapped on this remote computer (on the left), the train picture opened in the photo viewer, the opened Live Mesh folder and the Live Mesh client UI with my devices. I can work remotely on this computer as if I were there in front of it. If I drop a file into one of the Live Mesh folders, it will be automatically synchronized and appear on my other computers/devices where this folder is mapped to and in my Live Desktop. My home computer works behind NAT, but I can still access it. Live Mesh makes it possible to synchronize and remotely access computers even if they are behind firewalls, NATs, etc.
If I need to get my photos from my home computer while I am at work I can remote to it, drop them into one of the Live Mesh folders and after they are synchronized browse them on my work computer. Or when I go home and need to continue working on something, I can just drop relevant files into a Live Mesh folder and when I arrive home use them. No more flash drives or sending emails to myself 🙂 In addition to usual file synchronization, you can drag and drop files between your desktop and a Live Remote window or between 2 Live Remote windows. In this case, files will be just copied to a remote computer or to your current computer. Recently, I was quite surprised that I was able to remote to my home computer while I was riding a bus with a WiFi connection. File synchronization also worked fine (it was a bit slow though). So you can really get to your data and devices from anywhere with this service.