Getting to know you, Live Mesh

Earlier this year, Microsoft introduced a service called “Live Mesh”, which is part of their continuing ‘cloud-computing’ initiative(s).  Although the Live Mesh service is still technically a tech preview, it’s clear that they want folks using it. 

My initial read on the Live Mesh initiative was from Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows – one of my regular reads.  I have to admin, though: I didn’t “get it”.  I trust Paul’s judgment, though, so I decided to give it a spin for myself.

I was primarily sucked in by the ability to sync files between my home and work computers – clearly the biggest use case for this service.  I have a great number of files/folders that I’m constantly trying to maintain between these two worlds, and it gets out-of-sync very quickly.  Where’s the Word doc I was working on?  Oh, yeah – it’s at home.  Then I would call home and have my wife email the file to me.  Great!  Except that now I have a *more recent version* of that file on my work box, instead of at home. 

So on and so forth.

Installing Live Mesh is pretty straight-forward, assuming that you have a 32-bit Windows Vista or Windows XP machine – the majority of the computing world.  A small icon appears in your sys-tray, and you’re ready to go.  At this point, you can right-click on file or folder to “Add to a Live Mesh folder”, which will suck those contents up into the secure “cloud” where your data will live.  You can then access that data from your PC or via the Mesh.com website – so it’s really available anywhere you have an Internet-accessible PC.  Even better, you can install Live Mesh on a 2nd PC – say your home computer – and have those same folders “sync” to that box as well.  You can change the sync options, of course, since you may *NOT* want all folders/files syncing to every device that you use, but that’s really up to you and how you plan on using it.

meshDesktop

So… I now have Live Mesh installed at work and at home.  I have (4) folders that I am syncing between the two computers, and that sync is performed immediately.  (Note: my “Home” computer has a red X because it was physically turned off at the time of this screenshot.)  The Mesh-enabled folders change to a shiny-blue icon, which let’s you know that it’s activated.

meshBlueFolder

Also, those folders spawn an interesting sidebar that let’s you see the “history” of that folder – syncing, added files, deleted files, etc. – as well as meshSidebar other devices in your mesh, and additional folder “members” that you may or may not have added.  Members?  HUH??  This is pretty cool, actually.  I can create a folder, add it to my mesh, and then “share” that folder out to others – perhaps many others.  Imagine working on a project with a friend, and having a shared, constantly updateable folder to hold your files.  What about those relatives that *always* want the latest photos of the kids?  Put ‘em in a folder and share it out.

Pretty cool stuff, actually.

Another handy feature is the ability to “remote desktop” to any of the PCs in your Live Mesh.  Connect to that computer as if you’re sitting in front of it!  I’ve had this ability for years via the built-in Remote Desktop capability of Windows Server, XP, Vista, and so on – or via 3rd party offerings like GoToMyPC, LogMeIn, VNC and other – but having the “remote desktop” feature combined with something I’m already using is a good thing.

Now, let’s see a run-down of what I like and don’t like (thus far).

What I Like

First of all, I like the fact that Live Mesh is free.  If I had to pay for it, well… I never would’ve tried it out.  Would I pay for it in the future?  Perhaps – if the price point is right. 

Secondly, the ability to sync files between devices without having to think about it is really great.  Whether I’m at home, at work, or away at another computer altogether, I can get access to the *most current version* of my important files.  Nice!

Thirdly, sharing folders with other users (members) is really quite cool.  I confess: I’m not using this feature just yet, but I plan to in the very near future.

Lastly, built-in remote desktop capability is icing on the cake.  This feature didn’t make or break it for me, but it’s super-nice to have.  In fact, I’m finally connecting remotely to my home computer, since this feature is built-in.  I could’ve set that up with other products, but I honestly just never got around to it… until now!

What I Don’t Like (thus far)

It seems like Live Mesh wants to always use my desktop for new folders.  I like to keep things organized, and having an ever-growing collection of blue folders on my desktop doesn’t excite me.  I would prefer a different “default” location – perhaps I can change this – or a wizard that prompts me for where to store this folder.  You can move folders to other locations, but I don’t entirely have that process down, and it seems a bit cumbersome.  This area needs some work.

Speaking of organization, I tend to “keep things where I keep things”, and it was a stretch for me introduce a new filing system with the Live Mesh way of doing things. 

Let me explain. 

I have a folder of stuff that I use for items associated with my church – Word docs, graphics, Corel files, “archived” files, and so forth.  Having some of those files available to me at work would be *great*, but I don’t want all of them.  What should I do?  Have two folders for church stuff – one in the “mesh” and one local only?  In this case, that would’ve included an extra 1.2gigs worth of stuff that I *don’t* need access to all the time.  It can be perplexing to figure out a different organizational system when you’re introducing something like this.  I feel pretty content with how I’ve moved things around now, but it took some time for me to arrive at a good, organizational setup.

From here…

I’m going to continue to use Live Mesh in my daily life.  It really is well-worth having, and it has solved an issue that I’ve been wrestling with for years: file syncing between work spaces.  Also, I believe that they are planning a Live Mesh installer for Windows Mobile phones, which would be awesome, and it would solve the file syncing issue that I have there as well, since I carry a few dozen Word and Excel files with me on my phone.

All in all, I recommend looking into it if any of these issues crop up in your life.  Live Mesh is a good solution to a problem that many folks don’t know they have, and this offering is only going to get better.

My $.02

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