On March 31, Microsoft will stop supporting the beta version of Live Mesh. Users of the file synching service must manually upgrade to the full production Windows Live Mesh service or lose the data stored in their folders. This cloud service synchs files between multiple Windows machines and Macs, but because it doesn't support Linux, other services like Dropbox still have an edge.
Windows Live Mesh is part of Windows Live Essentials (and was originally the brainchild of Ray Ozzie, who left Microsoft on Dec. 30.) You can download just Windows Live Mesh or all of Windows Live Essentials and if you opt for the latter you'll get Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Windows Live Writer (an HTML editor for writing blogs), a Family Safety program, an e-mail program formerly known as Hotmail, an Outlook Connect that links your Hotmail to Outlook and Messenger, so you can see all three of these Microsoft-owned messaging services within Outlook.
Essentials also includes Messenger Companion which lets you see and comment on links in Internet Explorer shared through Messenger (rather than using Tumblr or Facebook I suppose?). It also downloads a Bing Bar search tool and, just for kicks, installs Silverlight.
To be fair, the 800-pound gorilla of free cloud apps, Google, does much the same thing, linking and integrating only to its own apps and collaboration tools and ignoring other options (such as Windows Live). The downside for Microsoft is that far fewer people are using Windows Live than are using Google's cloud apps -- and Microsoft increases the barriers to adoption in some subtle and not-too-subtle ways. Microsoft counts 500 million as Windows Live users thanks to users of Hotmail. (Just try and find someone to collaborate on a Word document in Windows Live ... I've tried, and now use Google Docs for that.)
Office Live includes some pretty good freebie versions of the company's desktop Office tools (including OneNote). BUT Microsoft removed the ability to synch these online files directly to desktop versions of Office 2003 and Office 2007 -- a functionality that once existed. Now only Office 2010 users can synch/collaborate their desktop files with the cloud via Office Live. Google stepped in to let 2003, 2007 and 2010 users synch with Google Apps -- though there are problems with the way Google went about it, too.
Likewise, Microsoft Fuse Labs offer a nifty Facebook application called Docs, for writing and sharing Office documents with Facebook friends (Word, Excel or PowerPoint). You can compose online or upload a desktop file. I use it to share gluten-free recipes with my friends. BUT, it isn't linked to Office Live, so there's no easy way to get your Facebook Word Doc into your Windows Live cloud and vice versa.
Microsoft has set a precedent for open connectivity in it's Essential suite of cloud tools: Windows Live Writer links to blogs hosted on non-Microsoft sites including Wordpress.com and Google's Blogger. Google is by far a bigger competitive threat than the entire Linux desktop OS community (especially given that Google is working on two of its own Linux-deriviate device operating systems, Chrome OS and Android 3.0 for tablets). But to make Live Writer useful, Microsoft was willing to acknowledge Blogger exists.
I have Windows Live and would use the sync tool except for the fact that I need to sync documents between my work Windows 7 computer, my "family room" Ubuntu Maverick Meerkat PC and with some other buddies some of which also use Linux. One of my favorite cloud apps is Windows Live Skydrive, which lets you store any kind of document in the cloud and access it from any other browser, even Firefox running on the Linux Ubuntu PC. I routinely upload Office files from work there and can edit them in the browser on the Linux machine at home.
But synch? It relies on Mesh for the sync function which doesn't support Ubuntu. So if I really need to make sure I have the file, Internet connection or not, Dropbox it is.
If Microsoft can support Blogger for Live Writer, and Mac for Mesh, why not just go ahead and acknowledge Linux and support it, too, in the cloud? The more Microsoft chases me to other cloud tools and products, the less reason I have not to ditch Windows altogether, an operating system I have used since I left DOS for Windows 3.1. I have no burning desire to move, but like many others, am slowly being lead away.
Julie Bort is the editor of Microsoft Subnet and Network World's Online Community Editor. She also writes the Open Source Subnet blog and is the editor responsible for the Cisco Subnet and Open Source Subnet web sites. If you have an idea for a blog, or a news tip on Microsoft, Cisco or Open Source technologies, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 970-482-6454 or follow Julie on Twitter @Julie188.
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