Microsoft's Mesh Promise On The Horizon

It's becoming clear that synchronizing information across devices and services is set to become a critical part of Microsoft's Web strategy, and Ray Ozzie made that point even clearer last week.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

March 10, 2008

4 Min Read

It's becoming clear that synchronizing information across devices and services is set to become a critical part of Microsoft's Web strategy, and Ray Ozzie made that point even clearer last week.In his keynote address at Microsoft's Mix conference for Web developers, Microsoft's chief software architect said the word "mesh" 14 times and some variant of "synchronization" three more times.

"Just imagine the possibilities enabled by centralized configuration and personalization and remote control of all your devices from just about anywhere," Ozzie said. "Just imagine the convenience of unified data management, the transparent synchronization of files, folders, documents, and media. The bi-directional synchronization of arbitrary feeds of all kinds across your devices and the Web, a kind of universal file synch."

Ozzie said that a test version of a product or products that put Microsoft on the path to enabling that vision will be available for download soon, but didn't offer up much more information than that the vision would begin with synchronizing information among desktops and laptops and extend to other devices from there. An invitation to sign up for that test, which was offered to MIX attendees, didn't clarify things much further, instead mostly repeating the talking points from Ozzie's keynote last week. Rumblings are that we should be on the look-out for something called Horizon.

In a conversation Wednesday evening, David Treadwell, Microsoft's VP of Live Platform Services, told me that synchronization is a "critical" part of Microsoft's forward-looking vision, but he, too, had little to offer in the way of product details. The consensus comment I heard was that I should wait until Microsoft's Professional Development Conference later this year when the curtain will fall.

Microsoft did begin to flesh out a bit of its vision in a session Friday morning, mostly from a developer standpoint. The company showed off an early version of a service that linked together personal contacts across Hotmail, Outlook, a Windows Mobile device and a non-Microsoft line of business application. It also showed off a proof of concept bit of code for an offline real estate application that could allow an agent to enter information that would be synced later when the agent re-connects to the Internet.

In a world where consumers and enterprise users use a number of different devices that run on Microsoft and non-Microsoft technology alike, any "mesh" strategy that Microsoft comes out with would seem to be a non-starter if it didn't take third-party platforms into account. Though I'd be happy to synchronize my contacts between my T-Mobile Dash, which runs Windows Mobile, and Windows Vista Contacts Manager, I'm still using Lotus Notes. I'd want to be able to sync that information, too, if possible. That's got to represent a challenge to Microsoft, and we'll see how Ozzie and company handle it.

Microsoft briefed developers on the Sync Framework and FeedSync, two of the company's early synchronization technologies, as well as something new currently called Astoria Offline, which is not even yet available for testing. Another product labeled "Astoria Server" appeared on a few PowerPoint slides, but it wasn't even mentioned. Astoria was the code-name for a project that seems to be morphing into the key data storage and modeling technology for Microsoft's data services strategy.

During the session, Microsoft program manager Neil Padgett said the company would release the final version of the Sync Framework in the third quarter and put out a test release of a mobile version of the framework at the same time.

FeedSync, the Sync Framework and Astoria Offline all look to be technologies that allow developers to create and implement bits of code and applications that can sync information, though Padgett also said Microsoft will offer some code for common scenarios like unifying contact information, and hinted that it also would craft some user experiences for how sync services look and feel to end users.

It's a good start to begin by addressing developers. Windows was built with open APIs to extend it as a platform, and engaging Web developers today is the right thing to do if Microsoft wants to be successful with its vision there as well. Sooner or later, though, Microsoft is going to have to come up with some nifty services, too.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights