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4/23/2008
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Microsoft Developers Weigh In On Live Mesh

Microsoft MVPs say that they hope Microsoft can deliver on the big promises it's making with its software-plus-services development platform.

Microsoft has made a series of big promises with Live Mesh, and while developers may look forward to using a new platform to synchronize data and write apps that can work inside and outside the browser and on a number of different devices and operating systems, Microsoft hasn't yet delivered anything for developers other than high-level discussion of what to expect.

"The bad news is, they do have a bold promise, and executing on that bold promise is crucial," Tim Huckaby, CEO of InterKnowlogy, which writes custom apps for software companies and businesses, said in an interview. "I totally see them pulling this off for Windows, but this has got to run everywhere. There are a lot of questions to be answered."

Despite his measured wait-and-see approach, from what he's seen so far, Huckaby, who as a Microsoft MVP has been recognized by the company for his technical expertise with Microsoft technologies, sounds excited about the potential of Live Mesh. "This really looks like the future of smart clients," he said. "It's about time to market, building rich apps, and surfacing them on every platform and every device, and getting them to production in the fraction of time it takes now, and that's the promise of Mesh."

Joel Semeniuk, chief architect and CEO of custom developer ImagiNET (and also a Microsoft MVP), says that Microsoft is moving in the right direction with Live Mesh. "You see the Salesforce.com APIs, the Google APIs, the Yahoo APIs and those are all doing significant things today," he said in an interview. "This is as significant with perhaps a broader impact because it sees that we're not doing everything in the cloud, that we are leveraging the devices we already have."

Yet both Huckaby and Semeniuk are waiting for more. Semeniuk, for one, can't test Live Mesh since Microsoft's only offering it in the United States to begin with, and he's in Canada. "It has to go global," he said. Neither can test out Live Mesh as a development platform, since the SDK and other development tools haven't yet been offered.

Huckaby hopes that Live Mesh's cloud application platform gives him a way to debug applications. "It's like a black box up there," he said. Semeniuk expressed similar sentiment. "I like to know exactly what's going on in the background," he said. "When they produce this API, it can't just be magic. It has to be very transparent and standards-based."

Among the other potential concerns for developers are that it's unclear if or how Microsoft will charge software developers for storage and development tools and what types of storage will be available to them.

Both Huckaby and Semeniuk said they see some business development potential for Live Mesh, though they differ on exactly what potential Live Mesh represents. Both see Live Mesh as a way to deliver rich line-of-business applications to remote and contract employees while keeping the same code base as the line-of-business apps that run at corporate headquarters. This is especially appealing for serving those who don't use corporate PCs and now can access those applications only as stripped down Web apps.

"From an enterprise perspective, there's still an enormous challenge on how to manifest line-of-business apps," Huckaby says. "Companies have salespeople on the road, and they've got to build a Web app for them, but the line-of-business app is running inside the firewall with WinForms and WPF and a beautiful user interface with three times the functionality of the Web app and you built it in half the time. Typically, you fork the development and have two versions, but this solves that problem."

Semeniuk sees Live Mesh as a technology that seems well suited for small business use in places where larger businesses may already have technology in place. What Live Mesh can do with its authentication and collaboration features, for example, larger companies are doing with VPN and Microsoft Groove.

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