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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 will also bring developers into the fold, allowing them to Live Mesh-enable their applications, which will bring offline capabilities a la Google Gears as well as synchronization capabilities to Web apps, plus online storage and synchronization capabilities to client applications. Apps developed using Live Mesh will also be accessible on all a user's devices, according to Microsoft. "On the developer side, we believe we are going to open up whole spectrum of scenarios where developers don't have to pick between the Web or the client and they can write software plus service applications against the platform," Parasnis said.

The basis of Live Mesh for developers is a set of APIs and protocols called MeshFX, which is available for different development environments and leverages Microsoft's RSS-like open FeedSync protocol to share information among devices and over the Internet. Developers can feed the raw data they expose as feeds into Live Mesh or write a FeedSync head into their code to expose content to Live Mesh. "The programming model is the same for the cloud and all connected devices, which means a Live Mesh application works exactly the same regardless of whether it's running in the cloud, in a browser, on a desktop, or on a mobile device," Mital plans to write in his blog.

The basic API, the Mesh Operating Environment, is a RESTful API based on simple HTTP that uses the feed-based model to communicate with Live Mesh. Microsoft will also provide managed APIs for .Net, Silverlight, and JavaScript/Ajax, and Parasnis mentioned additional APIs possible for other development scenarios like Flash and Ruby on Rails. A broad beta of a developer SDK will be available later this year.

"We want to be sure Mesh is accessible to a large class of developers, no matter what development environment they are coming in on," Parasnis said. The JavaScript API, for one, will allow developers to write Ajax and JavaScript apps that not only have offline functionality, but also work outside the browser.

While the first version of Live Mesh has been built primarily for individuals and developers, Microsoft has had business use in mind from the beginning as well. As Live Mesh evolves, Microsoft will build in additional controls to allow businesses to manage access to corporate devices on Live Mesh via Active Directory, help federate identity across organizations, control usage policy, and potentially have a local implementation of Live Mesh if they would like users to access data, but don't want it to be stored on the Internet. Hansen said Microsoft will talk in more detail about business scenarios later this year.

Live Mesh is a huge new bet for Microsoft, which Gartner analyst David Smith says is one of the only companies that could pull it all off with its broad expertise and developer platform experience. However, it's unclear how Microsoft itself will adopt Live Mesh in its own applications, what start-ups and software companies will sign on, what device and service provider partners will emerge, exactly how some of the developer technologies will work, whether other identity services like OpenID will eventually work with Live Mesh, and what will happen to some of the other Microsoft products like SkyDrive and FolderShare ("it's not a replacement," Parasnis said).

At this point, since Microsoft is only releasing a technology preview, the company hasn't announced any service provider, software vendor, or manufacturer partnerships or even which of its own applications Microsoft will mesh-enable. But those might be expected as Live Mesh marches closer to release. "Over time, we expect various groups internally to utilize various aspects of this platform," Hansen said.

Over the next few months, Microsoft intends to work with early testers of Live Mesh to determine how best to monetize parts of the service and developer technologies (the first 5 GB of storage will be free), as well as what devices Microsoft should first make compatible with Live Mesh, beyond Windows and the Mac. During the late spring and summer, Microsoft will hold a series of formal "software design reviews" with the community to help shape its plans for Live Mesh.

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