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Microsoft Opens Live Mesh To More Users

Live Mesh currently is a synchronization and remote access tool for Windows customers with Live IDs, but Microsoft says it will evolve to become much more than that.

Microsoft's software plus services platform, Live Mesh, is now available to anyone in the United States, the company announced Wednesday. Microsoft later in the day changed its position on this and said it was only doubling the number of testers from 10,000 to 20,000. See the update at the bottom of this story.

Live Mesh is Microsoft's biggest bet yet on a strategy known as "software plus services." A combination of client software, services, and developer tools, Live Mesh will let users and developers automatically or manually synchronize data among devices and to the Web, share content, remotely access Internet-connected devices, create Web apps that are accessible offline, and client apps that connect to Web services. Previously, it was only available to a closed testing group.

This may sound similar to Apple's .Mac and MobileMe, but Microsoft says it will use open protocols and make Live Mesh available not only to Windows customers, but also to mobile devices, Macs, and other platforms like the Xbox 360. Though it's out first, MobileMe only supports a subset of these: PCs, Macs, iPhones and iPods, and there are no clear plans for expanding that list.

Live Meshwill also have additional functionality as an application platform for developers, unlike MobileMe. Microsoft will use open standards including Atom, JSON, POX, RSS, SAML, HTTP, REST, and FeedSync to allow for interoperability. While MobileMe costs $99 per year, it's unclear how much Live Mesh will cost or even what its revenue model will be: the tech preview version is free.

In its current form, Live Mesh is much less than what Microsoft says it will become. Right now, it is generally a synchronization and remote access tool for Windows customers with Live IDs. Users download a 2-MB client called the Mesh Operating Environment, which allows them to replicate data to the Web and synchronize and share content with other devices and users. A Web site, Mesh.com, also includes a feature called Live Remote to remotely access the desktops of Web-connected Windows PCs and view media.

Developer tools, which will be shown at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in October, include MeshFX APIs. They'll support synchronization and online-offline capabilities for HTTP, .Net, Silverlight, Win32, and JavaScript, with others like Flash to follow. Going forward, expect Microsoft to leverage Live Mesh to make applications like Office more Internet connected and to create applications that do things like easily link contacts or bookmarks across computers.

Since releasing Live Mesh in very limited preview form in April, Microsoft has continually added fixes and features. Last week, Microsoft added true peer-to-peer synchronization, so that users are no longer constrained by online storage limitations. Apple's MobileMe doesn't have this feature.

Technically, Live Mesh is actually open to anyone with Windows, though the workaround could cause headaches. With a bit of a tweak, international Windows users can now get Live Mesh as well. All they have to do is change their operating system region and language setting to EN-US, though Microsoft warns this could interfere with any other applications that require certain region and language settings.

Update: Microsoft pulled back from plans it announced earlier today to open a preview version of Live Mesh to the public. Now, according to a blog and forum post by the Live Mesh team, Microsoft will only be doubling the number of testers from 10,000 to 20,000. Wider previews are expected later this year.

In a posting to Microsoft's Live Mesh forum this morning, the company said that "the Live Mesh team is pleased to announce that anyone in the U.S. can now use Live Mesh just by signing in to www.mesh.com with a valid Windows Live ID. No sign up needed to participate" Now, however, the message has changed without any trace of the older one, and the Live Mesh team has written a blog to announce the widening of the Live Mesh previews. According to a Microsoft spokesman, the earlier announcement was simply in error.

"The Live Mesh team is pleased to announce that we have simplified the signup process for our US customers," the new forum post reads. "We are doubling the upper limit of our technology preview program. Our technology preview is still limited to ensure great performance and experience for our customers. You can now use Live Mesh just by signing in to www.mesh.com with a valid Windows Live ID. No waiting list at this time" That said, when Microsoft meets its new quota, a waiting list will again open up. Some eager customers had been on the earlier waiting list since April.

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