Even though it seems to signal a shift from its PC-centric corporate philosophy, I wouldn’t call Microsoft’s Live Mesh offering a disruptive technology. If anything, it’s an accommodating technology.
Released this week at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, Live Mesh allows users to share data folders across different PCs and devices, storing information both on the hardware and on the Web. It’s not pure cloud computing. It’s kinda-cloud computing. Which may give cloud holdouts the peace of mind they need.
Much like Adobe’s Apollo project (which morphed into AIR last year), Live Mesh is about moving data between the online and offline worlds, which is the real “last mile” of mobile computing. As much as vendor promised anytime/anywhere/any device access, Internet connectivity is not ubiquitous and probably never will be. Nor would all users necessarily want everything stored in a single place. Live Mesh would avoid that problem by synchronizing changes made to information in folders and updating them every time the user downloads them to a client device or links back to a portal. Good for customers, good for developers. Not necessarily good for businesses.
So far Live Mesh has been restricted to a private group of beta testers, and in the earliest iterations Microsoft seems to be targeting consumers. There have been vague mentions of security features to be offered to corporate users, but nothing of any substance. And that kind of thing was fine in a world where businesses took their sweet time migrating to new platforms and environments, but not in a world where consumers buy their own devices. Microsoft suggests this doesn’t matter.
The issue is not the technology – sharing folders between devices and the Internet is undoubtedly useful. The issue is the data, or more precisely, the information that might make its way through Live Mesh. If we’re talking about sharing and synchronizing your recipes, no problem. It gets trickier when we’re talking about sales data, expense reports, marketing materials or other content that may be more vulnerable when it’s moving back and forth from a Web site to a cell phone.
Microsoft is also, oddly enough, behaving with Live Mesh as though it were a dot-com startup in the late 1990s, in that it has not revealed any ideas around the business model it will use to support the service. We can assume that users will be stuck looking at ads in their folders and businesses will be charged subscriptions, but the details are as important as the technology itself in determining how well Live Mesh will be accepted.
Online file storage, file sharing and remote desktop technologies are not new, but a combination of them in a package from the world’s largest software firm make for an important launch. I don’t think it’s a question anymore of whether Redmond “gets” the Internet. The task now is to prove it gets how customer adoption patterns and the subsequent IT management headaches are changing, too.