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Posted on March 18th, 2009 by David Fearon

Microsoft Live Mesh: Gateway to Paradise

And so regular listeners to the PC Pro podcast, and anyone who read our Ten Techs to Watch in 2009 feature, will know that we really rather like Microsoft’s Live Mesh utility. But we haven’t actually written anything specifically about it yet, so I’m going to tell you why Microsoft has, for the first time ever, produced a piece of software that I would call brilliant. Honestly, genuinely brilliant. It’s currently in beta but that doesn’t mean you should waste any time in installing it.

What you do is, you visit the Live Mesh website, sign in with your Windows Live ID (annoying but important), and then click on Add Device in the resulting page:

This lets you download a little installer – it really is quite small at 1.6MB. Double-click it when it’s downloaded and the Live Mesh client installs itself without fuss (although your desktop might flash once or twice as it installs itself into the Windows shell).

Now, you can right-click on any folder on your system and select ‘Add folder to Live Mesh’.

The folder will then go blue. The contents of the folder have been whisked into the much ballyhooed internet cloud, to be stored on Microsoft’s servers somewhere. The folder contents aren’t moved – only copied – but changes, additions and deletions from the local folder are reflected in the version living in the cloud, more or less immediately.

Now pop to a different PC and go through the same two-minute install process. Click the little Live Mesh icon in the tray and hit the Folders icon. You’ll get a list of every folder that you’ve added to your mesh.

This is the good part: click on a folder, hit Okay in the dialog that pops up and that folder gets pulled down from the cloud and replicated on the desktop (or elsewhere if you prefer) on the local machine. And just like on the originating machine, changes, additions and deletions on the files in that folder are reflected in the cloud-bound version, and pushed back down to any other PCs that have that folder added to their mesh.

That means Live Mesh is not a backup tool – it won’t save you from a virus deleting files, or your own clumsiness if you overwrite a vital file with an empty one. What it does mean is that your data is freed from the shackles of a particular PC and becomes available anywhere, on any PC with an internet connection. Live Mesh is essentially a portal onto your important folders, letting you open them, edit the contents and get to them anywhere you like without restriction. If you don’t have installation rights on the computer you’re using, you can get to the files via the ‘mesh desktop’ view in a browser.

This has changed the working life not only of me but several other members of the PC Pro team. We no longer have to remember to take files home on a flash drive, or email them to ourselves. And no longer is there any problem with synchronisation, since in effect you’re not working on copies of your files remotely, you’re working on the actual file itself (with a delay of a few seconds while changes get uploaded to the servers and then replicated out).

As long as you haven’t left a document open, you can go home, open that document, work on it, save it and close it as usual. When you get to your office machine in the morning, the file is there just where it was before. No explicit synching, no fuss and no thought required. It’s flippin’ marvellous.

Your folders follow you everywhere – it’s the data that matters, and that’s the way it should be.

If none of this sounds terribly compelling, you’ve hit the problem with Live Mesh: it’s hard to convey its fabness – you need to try it. If you have more than one PC and you ever need to get access to the same file on them, you need Live Mesh. Fact.

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16 Responses to “ Microsoft Live Mesh: Gateway to Paradise ”

  1. David Wright Says:
    March 18th, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    It managed to totally balls up one machine (tried uninstalling it and it corrupted the registry around the display drivers… Ended up having to rebuild the machine, re-installing the nVidia drivers didn’t do anything, the machine would only boot in Safe Mode… :-S

    It also didn’t much like me trying to add folders which were on both machines. It seemed to get itself in a pickle and added 3 copies of the same folder, with the same name, and wouldn’t replicate them!

     
  2. Live Mesh Paradise « Gary Quigley - A geek for all seasons! Says:
    March 18th, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    [...] http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2009/03/18/microsoft-live-mesh-gateway-to-paradise/ [...]

     
  3. David Fearon Says:
    March 18th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    David,

    Sorry to hear about your woes! We’ve installed it on well over 20 machines here – I’ve got 12 in my own mesh – and had no problem with any of them so it looks like you were pretty unlucky. As far as the idea of adding the same folders is concerned, yes that would probably cause the same sorts of problems as more traditional sync tools – Live Mesh isn’t set up explicitly to deal with conflict resolution.

     
  4. Andy Cox Says:
    March 18th, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    I have been an avid fan of the Mesh for two months now and, as David says, it changes the way you work. Last week, though, I managed to update an older version of a very lengthy Word document – I have two laptops sitting side by side and lost too much work to bear thinking about. My own silly fault – but what would make MESH really magic would be versioning on the cloud servers, at least to one or two generations to avoid mistakes like mine. That would be the perfect product.

     
  5. Steve Jeffery Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 9:49 am

    I have been using LiveMesh for a while now and while I agree with what you are saying regarding file synchronisation, this has been possible in the business space for some time using Groove.

    The real killer feature for me is the remote desktop – I can now control from almost anywhere any machine in my Mesh such as my media center at home or my office PC when getting on the VPN is not an option.

     
  6. muck Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 10:13 am

    ok Steve has now got my attention mentioning remote desktop to all Mesh machines. I’ll take a look

     
  7. David Fearon Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Ah yes, the remote desktop. I’ve found it useful for emergencies – emailing myself the odd critical file that’s not on my mesh anywhere – but beyond that I find it too slow to be very useful and there’s no facility to reduce colour depth or the like to speed things up. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has any tricks to make it go quicker.

     
  8. hjlupton Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 11:20 am

    I’ve been avidly following the Live Mesh trail for a while now, as this technology really stands out. Being able to access files anywhere is something I have long hoped for, as synching via usb sticks can be annoying. The Live Mesh is like the next step from the Back to My Mac feature of Mobile Me, and done on a massive scale.

    I will definitely be signing myself up to this service, I can always access it via boot camp / parallels. Now if this service is made accessible from a Mac platform as well, then we are really talking about a killer technology.

    It’s not often i can say this, but well played Microsoft :D

     
  9. hjlupton Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I stand corrected, it works on a Mac too! I’m now officially over the moon… will be signing up tonight

     
  10. Christopher Phin Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I really want to use Mesh ? and indeed can, given that it works on a Mac as well as a PC – but the capacity is just too small for me at the moment. I’m forced ? though happily so ? to use my 60GB SugarSync account, which does the same file sync thing across platforms.

     
  11. Simon Ball Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Only appears to work with Vista machines, so not much use when we’re on XP…

     
  12. David Fearon Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    XP is supported too Simon! I’ve got it on several XP machines.

     
  13. hjlupton Says:
    March 19th, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    The only platform is doesn’t seem to work on (at least from a sync point of view) is linux, but i’m curious if you can still log in and use the online web front end features from a linux box. When i get home i will give this a whirl on my laptop

     
  14. John Dale Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 9:15 am

    @andycox If you want versioning in the cloud, Dropbox ( http://www.getdropbox.com ) is very similar to Live Mesh but with all the older versions of your synced files kept in the cloud.

     
  15. Kip Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I am utterly confused – all my computers are synced via Live Mesh and accessing them remotely, I can sync the same pcs via DropBox and access my online files via Gladinet, and access other pcs remotely via Logmein. When did my life get so complicated?

     
  16. PC Remote Access Says:
    December 11th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Hey @hjlupton, how did Windows Mesh work with linux? My office has linux machines and I am wondering about how I can get to their documents easily through remote connection.

     

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