Microsoft Doubles Live Mesh Test Force

After unveiling its Live Mesh cloud computing service back in April, Microsoft on Wednesday opened up the software’s preview version to a larger number of early users in the United States.

“This week we did two things,” wrote the Live Mesh Team on its official blog. “[We] doubled the maximum number of users we’ll allow to access the Live Mesh Technology Preview,” and “[we] simplified the Tech Preview sign-up process.”

Previously, Live Mesh was available only to a closed testing group. The technology preview is still limited, the company noted, but users with a valid Windows Live ID can now try out the technology — without waiting for an invitation — simply by signing in at the Live Mesh site.

Virtual Online Desktop

Live Mesh is designed to enable users to share files and synchronize folders across multiple PCs. The technology initially supports just Windows PCs, but compatibility with Mac OS X and mobile devices is expected later in the year, Microsoft has said.

The intended result is that users can create a sort of virtual online desktop through which they can share files from multiple devices. They need only install the Live Mesh software on each device, and then add folders to their “mesh.” From then on, folders are automatically synchronized and always available.

Documents, music, photos and videos are all accessible from any device, and users receive a continuously updated feed on the details of shared content and who has accessed it.

International Users

The service also offers remote access to connected computers and devices. Down the road, it will add support for devices including the Xbox video game console, the Zune personal media player, digital video recorders, digital photo frames and printers as well, Microsoft said.

As part of the changes to the accessibility of the Live Mesh technical preview this week, Microsoft has also made the technology accessible to international users, it said — but with one caveat.

“You must be willing to change your Windows operating system region and language setting to EN-US,” wrote Ben on the Live Mesh Forum. “Once you do this you will be able to immediately sign in to Live Mesh with a valid Windows Live ID. Please be aware that this may cause other applications that specifically require your native country region and language settings to encounter problems.”

‘Quite a Bit of Work to Do’

Given that the technology still supports only Windows PCs, Microsoft has “quite a bit of work to do on Live Mesh before it becomes really compelling,” Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld.

“They’ve pointed it in the direction they’re going, but it will become much more interesting when it works on devices other than Windows PCs,” Rosoff explained. “When it gets to that point, it becomes pretty interesting. It will be complicated technically to pull off, but assuming they do, it’s conceptually a pretty interesting idea.”

Indeed, “Live Mesh is one of the most promising technologies coming out of Microsoft,” asserted Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group. “It allows you to be on almost anything that has Microsoft technology — and even some things that don’t — and makes sure your stuff is with you no matter where you are.”

‘Hard to Go Back’

Enderle currently uses Sharpcast’s SugarSync — another synchronization tool — and the capabilities are compelling, he told TechNewsWorld. “Once you get used to it, it’s hard to go back,” he said.

Looking forward, such tools “could make a huge difference,” Enderle added.

“One of the things people have been struggling with for a long time is that when you use your desktop for some things and your laptop for others, moving between the desktop and laptop can be painful,” he explained. “This fixes that. It really does address a problem the industry has been dealing with for a long time.”

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