First Impressions - Live Mesh Review

I had a chance to check out the new Live Mesh "tech preview" announced at Web 2.0 Expo this week. Two first impressions. First, the Live Mesh tech preview is a good start. It's obviously early in the life of Live Mesh so it's hard to judge something which you are viewing by just peering into one tiny porthole. Second, Live Mesh is a move away from the old freeze the market, bait-n-switch tactics of Microsoft old. Lets jump into the Live Mesh tech preview experience and then I'll expand on my latter point in a separate blog post.

Live Mesh Installation

Score: 4 of 5 - The Live Mesh install was extremely easy, and with one exception, was flawless. And I'm probably being a bit unfair about the one exception, because it had to do with SilverLight not installing properly, but I'm not dinging Live Mesh for that one. To join the tech preview, just go to www.mesh.com and sign up. They are taking 10,000 users initially. You'll receive an email when you are in, then go back to the site and sign in with your Windows Live user id. First you'll need to add your device to the Mesh, which causes Live Mesh software to be installed on your computer. It all went very fast and went well for me... no problems. From there you can add other devices or start to upload documents you want to share through Live Mesh.

That's the good news. Now for the bad. To use Live Mesh you'll have to enable UAC on Vista. Yep, you heard me right. You have to ENABLE UAC! OMG, hasn't Microsoft learned their lessons about UAC? You know what UAC stands for, don't you? User Annoyance Center. I'm sure there are good security reasons for doing this but Microsoft is asking a lot from us if they expect users to live with UAC in order to use Live Mesh.

Holy barriers to entry, Batman. 1 BIG demerit, to what otherwise is a great installation experience.

Sharing Data

Score: 3 of 5 - Setting up folders and sharing files are easy. Go to the Live Desktop and start adding folders. One thing that was a bit confusing is you double-click folder icons in Live Desktop. I guess it makes sense since this is a desktop metaphor, but doing it from a browser fooled me until about the fourth try.

Adding files is easy and straight forward through the Live Mesh web interface. You can also go to you Windows Explorer where you'll find "Live Mesh Folders" under your account's local files. Everythings' pretty straight forward from there too. I do wish you could drag and drop via the web interface (something I'll say more about later) and could add folders in addition to single files. I suppose those features will come.

Sharing Folders Between Live Mesh Users

Score: ? of 5 - Since I don't know anyone else who is using Live Mesh yet, I didn't get to try this out. If you're on Live Mesh and would like to try it out, email me and we'll test it.

Remote Desktop Access

Score: 3 of 5 - Accessing one of the devices in your mesh is very straight forward. Simply select it and click connect. I'd describe the performance accessing a remote desktop "doable" if you aren't going to do much more than a couple of tasks on the remote computer. Screen painting is a bit slow and mouse response can be very sluggish. But if you just needed to log on to grab a file to add to the mesh, or check some info on that remote computer, then it would be fine. I couldn't see working remotely on your remote desktop.

One thing that doesn't make sense is the Devices view of Live Mesh lets you select the Connect button to the same device you are using. This opens a new window and then goes through the motions to connect, but results in an error message basically saying you can't remote connect to the same computer you're on. So why enable the Connect button in the first place, avoiding all that trouble. A small but helpful change would help keep things chimp simple.

User Experience

Score: 4 of 5 - Overall, Live Mesh is a very pleasant and familiar experience. The "loop" metaphor communicates well the idea these devices are synchronized and sharing files. Adding files, setting up folders and accessing them from the Windows file Explorer is easy and straight forward. The complexity is pretty minimal and the help text is very useful.

There are features you naturally expect in a desktop metaphor, like drag and drop. Microsoft's planning to implement this and tells you so in a pop up window when you try to do a drag and drop a file. A nice touch - it's good to know they've thought about it, and that it's coming.

It is possible to get stuck down a rat hole, though. This happened to me when I clicked on my profile name in the Notes window (where it lists all the actions that have taken place.) Another click to edit my profile and I popped into the regular Windows Live interface that offers Hotmail, Spaces, OneCare and MSN. After saving changes to my profile, I remained in Windows Live but there was no navigation to get back to my Live Mesh desktop. My option then was to re-enter the Live Mesh URL or play whack-a-mole with IE's BACK button to get past the profile edit screens and return to the Live Mesh desktop. I suspect we'll see continuity kinks like this worked out as Live Mesh gets closer to release.

Security

Score: 2 of 5 - One fundamental thing I disagree with is giving users the option to save their password. Save the user id? Well, okay, but not both user id AND password. I especially don't want to do this with a service that I'm uploading and synchronizing my personal data with. All someone needs is physical access to a computer and the browser, and *poof* you're in. 1 demerit for saving passwords.

Now to my second issue. If I'm going to add devices to my mesh and then synchronize data across those devices, I want the ability to wipe the shared data off any of those devices that might get lost. Similar to the ability you have to wipe a PDA phone when it comes up lost. We're not talking my friends list or my iPod playlist kind of data here, this is data that I want protected. If you remove a device from Live Mesh, it will no longer sync with the service but it will retain the files sync'd onto the device. Add a wipe feature please. 2 demerits.

Conclusion

Like I said up front, it's a good start. Live Mesh isn't going to match up to current commercial offerings yet but it's still very early. Flush out the rest of the basic features and you've got a solid product.

But what's really exciting to me is you can see where this is all heading. I've done plenty of writing about that. Your Live desktop will become your desktop of the future when storage, apps and content all live somewhere between your computer and parts of the cloud. I'm particularly pleased that Ozzie is bringing Live Mesh to us as it's built, rather than following the freeze the market tactics we're so used to.

Like this? Here are some of Mitchell's recent posts.

Microsoft's Under Promise / Over Deliver Strategy

Told Ya So - Virtualization On The Desktop

1 for 1 with Vista SP1

Shutting Down The "Bill" Syndrome

How Not To Do Online Storage Services

Mitchell's Hottest Blog Posts: Google Scoops Microsoft-Delivers Mesh FirstHyper-V Leaves Linux Out In The Cold, Apple Fixes Open Source Vulnerabilities, What Microsoft Mesh Means To You, Apple iPhone Doomed To Failure.

Check out Mitchell's Converging On Microsoft Podcast. Current Podcast Episode: Security Mike Gets Serious About Security

Also visit Mitchell's personal blog The Converging Network and SSAATY Security Podcast. Visit Microsoft Subnet for more news, blogs, opinion from around the Web. Sign up for the bi-weekly Microsoft newsletter. (Click on News/Microsoft News Alert.)
Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: 10 new UI features coming to Windows 10