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Web 2.0: Microsoft Makes Big Bet For 'Software Plus Services' With Live Mesh

Live Mesh will let users share data and content across a wide variety of devices using both Web-based and client software.

Microsoft has struggled to find its footing in the services era as former upstarts like Yahoo and Google have made themselves into household names. But it's pushing back this week by detailing a significant new mix of software, services, and a development platform it calls a "marquee" example of its evolving "software plus services" strategy: Live Mesh.

Live Mesh, formerly known under the code names Windows Live Core and Horizon, will be available in a limited technology preview to a small number of testers beginning this week. The platform aims to give people centralized configuration and remote control of their devices and data from both Web-based and client software, as well as a Web desktop that will allow users to do things like view media that they've stored on the Web. It also aims to give developers the power to write Web applications with offline and synchronization capabilities and client apps that can be extended to the Web and other devices.

"The Internet is becoming more and more central to our digital lives, whether that's our work style or our lifestyle, and we're adopting a wider and wider diversity of increasingly powerful devices," Jeff Hansen, Microsoft's general manager of services marketing, said in an interview as he detailed Microsoft's rationale for building Live Mesh. "If you take these devices and make them aware of each other in a really intelligent way over the Internet, you begin to realize that there are all sorts of interesting extensions and scenarios you can build to really tap into and work across this mesh of someone's digital life."

For example, say you want to share photos across all your devices. You might have a set of them on your desktop, but to publish them to the Web you have to use a Flickr client application, to move them to your smart phone you have to use a USB cord or Bluetooth to sync the content, and to move it to your Xbox 360 there's yet another step. With Live Mesh, Microsoft hopes to take all that complexity away and make the data spread to all your devices automatically. But that's only one piece of the larger Live Mesh puzzle that also includes sharing content with friends and co-workers and creating applications that work both online and offline.

Not all the functionality will come at once, and a wider beta of Live Mesh will be available later this year. The downloadable Live Mesh application will at first be available only for Windows Vista and Windows XP, but will soon be offered also for the Mac and then for an expanding array of smart phones, mobile devices, and other systems. The Web service for now is accessible in Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer (with mobile browsers to come), but some of the user experience elements such as the Web-based media player are built for the Silverlight browser plug-in, so those will only work if Silverlight is installed. Developers will eventually be able to use an array of languages to write apps that use Live Mesh.

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