Preview

Live Mesh: An 'Open Platform' for Developers

Amit Mital, general manager of Microsoft's Live Mesh group, had a message for developers attending the Web 2.0 Expo April 22-25 in San Francisco: Think open platform.

His group's newly unveiled Web service for synchronizing data and connecting multiple devices is language and platform neutral. It will allow developers to use any tools, languages, formats, or protocols to connect their applications to the "mesh" environment, as Microsoft calls it.

"As a developer, you chose how you interact with Live Mesh," Mital said. "Whether it's Atom and JSON, POTS and RSS, or XML and WXML…. It's a platform that provides open access to the data model and APIs."

Microsoft announced Live Mesh earlier in the day at the San Francisco-based event. However, Mital's presentation there was the first public demonstration of the technology, which is still in beta. His team was formed two years ago, he said, and began looking into the relationships among a host of digital devices, from laptops to mobile phones, cameras to digital picture frames. All of these devices were "Internet connected at birth," but not to each other.

Live Mesh uses "the magic of software" to bring all of these devices together into a user's "personal mesh." It's both a platform and a service that models users' digital relationships. Microsoft describes it as a map of devices, data, applications and people the user cares about.

"With appropriate permission from the user," Mital explained, "developers can read information out of the Mesh to personalize their apps to the user, use the Mesh to communicate with and configure the user's devices, and to write data into the Mesh that will be available to the user on any of their devices."

It provides a number of "cloud" services, including storage, pub-sub and communication relays that developers can use to connect their applications and services with a user's "personal mesh." All of Live Mesh's services and runtime use a RESTful protocol, Mital said, to expose resources, and it uses the Atompub protocol to manage those resources.

This platform/service emerged from the work of Microsoft's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, explained industry analyst Neil Macehiter. Ozzie developed distributed, synchronized environments for Lotus Notes and his own Groove products before joining Microsoft.

"In a nutshell, Live Mesh allows individuals, their devices, and their data to become aware of one other, and establish networks to permit file synchronization across all of it," Macehiter explained. "This is [Microsoft's] 'Software Plus Services' applied to the file management and collaboration you're familiar with on the desktop. You can think of Live Mesh as enabling your desktop to access cloud-based resources -- Live Mesh Explorer, if you like."

Macehiter sees Live Mesh as primarily a consumer play that allows Microsoft to build a bridge from where the world is today -- desktop/laptop/server -- to where the world is moving -- cloud-based services.

But why are we seeing Live Mesh now?

"Microsoft has lagged behind and has struggled to put real meat on the S+S bones," Macehiter said. "They've been talking about this for two years; we're seeing it now, in part, because Microsoft is facing competitive threats from multiple directions."

Because it's such an early beta, Macehiter predicted that Live Mesh will have limited impact on developers in the short term.

"If Microsoft does its job properly," he said, "it will abstract away a lot of the complexity of dealing with the mesh. It shouldn't be apparent to developers whether they are using a local drive or some drive in the cloud. I think the biggest challenge for developers is going to be working out when the mesh makes sense, and the usability implications."

Microsoft is making this beta version of its Live Mesh platform/service available now as a "limited technology preview." Mital invited attendees and anyone interested to kick the tires of the new application. The general Web site for Live Mesh is located here. Microsoft is also providing an early look for developers on the Tech Preview site. At press time, the site included a basic intro, a video demo and a waiting list to sign up.

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