Live Mesh may emerge as Microsoft 'cloud' platform

By Elizabeth Montalbano, IDG News Service |  Development, Live Mesh, Microsoft

Originally positioned as a Web-based service for synchronizing files and data folders across different devices, Microsoft's Live Mesh is poised to emerge as a cloud-based development environment at the company's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October.

According to the agenda for the PDC, Microsoft plans to provide a clearer view into how developers can build APIs (application programming interfaces) to leverage Live Mesh -- which the company is calling a "cloud services and client platform" -- to connect applications and services across various devices.

This is a slightly new positioning for Live Mesh, which Microsoft introduced in April as a folder-sharing and synchronization service. While the company introduced a developer component for the platform so applications could be created for it, Live Mesh was mainly presented as a consumer service for helping people synchronize different file folders and other data across different devices by putting them on the "mesh."

At the time Microsoft also did not refer to Live Mesh as a "cloud" platform, which has up until now been a term used to refer to services such as Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which provides on-demand computing and infrastructure for building and hosting applications without the need for on-premises software.

Though it's still unclear how far Microsoft plans to take Live Mesh, it definitely does seem to be shaping into something different from what was first advertised, said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst with Forrester Research.

"It's interesting to see them expanding it," he said. However, Hammond said he doesn't think the information Microsoft has provided so far about Live Mesh "sufficiently helps me understand what it is." He also think the company needs to distinguish more clearly between its Live Mesh and its Windows Live development platforms.

As presented now, Live Mesh does not go as far as EC2 in providing a full cloud-based infrastructure for running services, said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with Baltimore-based research firm Zapthink. For one thing, it doesn't focus on data and server virtualization like most cloud-computing efforts, he said.

However, it does act like a cloud-based platform by abstracting "the management infrastructure for diverse Microsoft-based devices, applications and other technologies," Bloomberg said.
Microsoft has said Live Mesh also gives developers a place to centrally store data that different applications can take advantage of, which also is a component of cloud-based computing services.

Another limitation to Live Mesh is that it is aimed at providing a connected device environment for Windows, not heterogeneous environments that cloud-computing offerings support, Bloomberg said. "There is little if any value in Live Mesh for most enterprise users or others who must live and work in a heterogeneous environment," he said.

Still, wooing developers to the Live Mesh platform will be key to helping Microsoft win mindshare for Live Mesh as a Web development platform, Hammond said.

"Targeting developers early on is key -- they've certainly learned this in the past," he said. "If you don't get the developers, you don't win the platform battle."

Companies like Google and Facebook have made it easy for developers to build applications that leverage their online services by making their APIs open. This strategy has helped Google especially put its online applications on different mobile devices, Hammond said.

Microsoft may be trying to do something similar with Live Mesh, though it's too early to tell, he said.

"If I Mesh-enable a service, does it mean it can be accessed from any Mesh-compatible device?" Hammond said. "If I don't have to do anything extra to make that phone work with a service, that's cool."

He said that he wouldn't be surprised if Live Mesh gradually develops into a more clear competitor to services like EC2 and Google's App Engine, especially now that other companies are clarifying how they will compete in this market. Just recently, IBM said it would invest hundreds of millions of dollars in developing a cloud compute platform, Hammond said.

"This seems to be the stage in the game of everyone announcing their intentions for how they compete in the cloud," he said.

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