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Your Life in Sync—Windows 7 and Live Services : Beyond Windows Live: The Mesh

11/28/2012 4:32:58 PM
While the name Windows Live can and should suggest a connection with Windows, Microsoft is busy creating a number of other online services and products that it has branded in a curious number of ways. The most interesting is Live Mesh (mesh.com), an evolving new Microsoft platform that encompasses an Internet operating system (exposed as a Web-based desktop), your Windows 7–based PC(s), and your mobile device(s). It enables you to sync documents and other files between the Web-based desktop and your PCs (but only at the folder level). You can also remotely access other PCs using a remote desktop-like experience. Microsoft says it will add other services in the future, and of course developers are racing to take advantage of this new "cloud computing" platform as well.

At a conceptual level, what's most interesting about Live Mesh is that the PC desktop is not at the center of this emerging platform. Instead, Live Mesh is envisioned as a ring or circle, whereby your PC(s), mobile device(s), and Web desktop are all equal partners, like spokes on a wheel (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Live Mesh is conceptually a circle of connected PCs, devices, and a Web-based desktop.

All of the capabilities of the Live Mesh, today and in the future, will work identically via each entry point. Note, too, that Microsoft also supports non-Microsoft PCs (for example, Macs) and mobile devices (for example, Windows Mobile smartphones) with this platform. The Live Mesh Web-based desktop is shown in Figure 2.

In short, Microsoft is creating a cloud computing platform in which the PC is but a component. Like it or not, most computer users today don't typically use just a single device. People increasingly use multiple PCs (and/or Macs), both in the home and at work. They have desktops and laptop computers; they have smartphones, MP3 players, digital cameras, and other mobile devices. In addition, most users have a host of online personas via e-mail and instant messaging services, social networking memberships, e-commerce sites, and other online communities. Users manage these disparate components separately and with great complexity and difficulty.

Figure 2. The Live Mesh Web desktop

This situation is similar to what it must have been like being one of the first automobile owners 100 years ago. Back then, you had to have extensive technical knowledge about the vehicle in order to use and maintain it. Today, that market has evolved and matured such that most car owners simply use their vehicles without needing to understand how they work. Computing, too, must mature in the same fashion, and it must do so while meeting the ever-increasing needs of a mobile and interconnected user base.

With Live Mesh, Microsoft seeks to bridge the gap between all the currently disconnected devices, computers, and Web services now used. And though a Web-based desktop sits conceptually on the Live Mesh ring, you use the Web as a hub of sorts for authentication and connections. Naturally, Microsoft utilizes Windows Live ID for this purpose. This provides individual users with a way to collect the list of computers and devices they're using, of course, but it also provides the infrastructure for sharing between users. If you want to do something very simple, such as provide a way for others you trust to access the contents of a shared folder, Live Mesh makes it both possible and seamless.

Live Mesh, alas, is an evolving platform, and much about it will change between the writing and reading of these words. That said, Live Mesh offers two basic features today: document synchronization and remote desktop access. They're worth exploring briefly.

1. Live Mesh Document Sync

Every time you create a folder in the Web-based Live Mesh Desktop, Live Mesh creates a special blue shortcut to that folder on the desktop of each connected PC. The first time you click this shortcut, you're presented with a Synchronize Folder dialog that enables you to set up synchronization for the folder. The default synchronization option will be changed to When files are added or modified. If you accept this option, you can optionally (and preferably) relocate the local version of the folder and move on with life. If, however, you choose to change the sync type back to Never with this device, then the shortcut disappears from the PC desktop.

Assuming you do want to sync the folder between your local PC and the Live Desktop (and, potentially, other devices), the icon will change from a special blue shortcut to a special blue folder and the window will open. As with folders viewed from the Live Desktop, locally synced Live Mesh folders also include the Live Mesh Bar on the right, as shown in Figure 3. There's one major difference, however: on the PC, you can minimize but not close the Live Mesh Bar if you'd like.

Figure 3. Synchronized Live Mesh folders look a bit different from normal Explorer windows.

The most important thing to note about locally accessed synchronized folders, of course, is that you can drag and drop content into them; and because they're automatically synchronized, any files and folders you copy into these folders on your PC are synced back to the Web-based Live Desktop and to any other devices with which you've configured synchronization. Because folder sync occurs on a per-folder basis, you need to manually configure each Live Folder to sync to each device. This can be done via the Live Desktop or individually on each PC.

2. Live Mesh Remote Desktop

Live Mesh also includes a handy remote access feature called Live Mesh Remote Desktop. To access this feature, open the Live Mesh menu, either on your local PC or from within Live Desktop, find the PC you'd like to remotely control, and then click the appropriate Connect to Device link. Live Mesh will open a Remote Desktop-type window, complete with a unique Live Mesh Bar that includes remote desktop-oriented functionality such as Send Ctrl+Alt+Delete, Hide desktop on remote device, and Show desktop as actual size. These options are shown in Figure 4.

By default, the remote desktop is scaled to fit the confines and resolution of the window, though you can use the aforementioned option to change that and scroll around within a truly windowed view of the remote desktop.


The Remote Desktop feature in Windows 7 requires Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate: Home versions need not apply. This is a problem with the remote access feature in Windows Home Server,  because that feature relies on Remote Desktop functionality. Thus, Microsoft's "Home" server can't provide remote access to "Home" versions of Windows. Armed with this knowledge, you may assume that Live Mesh Remote Desktop will work only on non-Home versions of Windows, but that's not the case: Live Mesh Remote Desktop works fine with both Windows 7 Home Basic and Starter.

Figure 4. Live Mesh Remote Desktop enables you to remotely access PCs connected to your Mesh.
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