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Originally published April 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 23, 2008 at 11:03 AM

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Microsoft to unveil online service Live Mesh

Microsoft is previewing a new online service today that embodies the new direction Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie is taking the company...

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft is previewing a new online service today that embodies the new direction Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie is taking the company.

Live Mesh, to be announced at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, is designed to manage multiple PCs and devices, storing and sharing a user's files, photos, music and other content among them.

It's the latest example of a major effort at Microsoft to adapt and expand its products to an Internet-centric computing landscape. Ozzie, in a memo to Microsoft employees to be posted internally this morning, described this transition.

"To individuals, the concept of 'My Computer' will give way to the concept of a personal mesh of devices — a means by which all of your devices are brought together, managed through the Web, as a seamless whole," Ozzie wrote.

A team of top engineers from around Microsoft began working on the Live Mesh project two years ago. It was championed by Ozzie, who assumed the role of top software strategist from Bill Gates in June 2006 and is guiding the company's transition to Internet services.

"It's kind of Ray Ozzie's first baby with Microsoft," said Kip Kniskern, a contributor to LiveSide.net, which tracks Microsoft's online-services efforts.

Today, about 100 people are involved in the project, which resides in the company's Live Platform Services Group.

Live Mesh, which is going out to select U.S. developers now and is scheduled for a broader test release by the end of this year, will work like this:

To start, users log on to www.mesh.com on any computer and access their "Device Ring," a visual representation of their home and work computers, mobile devices (phones and MP3 players) and peripherals such as printers and digital picture frames.

To add a device, users download a small piece of software to identify it as theirs. The devices can then be synchronized with common settings, preferences and data.

Through the mesh, users can access applications and folders on their devices and move them among other devices or upload them to a "Live Desktop" — 5 gigabytes of online storage accessible online from anywhere.

The mesh also allows users to grant access to their content and devices to other people.

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Kniskern said not everything about Live Mesh appears to be novel.

"There are a number of products including [Microsoft's] FolderShare and other third-party products that purport to do what this one does, but I don't think many of them work well," he said.

The combination of features and capabilities Microsoft is bringing forward with Live Mesh could be promising, if it works, Kniskern said.

While it might seem Live Mesh diminishes the role of Microsoft's dominant Windows franchise, the company is positioning the new service as an extension of the operating system.

"This is absolutely an enhancement to Windows," said Jeff Hansen, general manager of services marketing.

Live Mesh folders accessed in Windows will include an information bar with details about changes, views or comments made by other users.

Microsoft is pursuing a strategy it calls "software plus services," emphasizing both online services and desktop software working together, in contrast to the "software as a service" approach taken by competitors such as Google and salesforce.com in the business market.

For companies already providing online services, Microsoft is both a competitor and, potentially, an enabler.

Microsoft is positioning Live Mesh as a platform for developers.

"It takes care of all sorts of plumbing-level services for developers, yet it's super-simple and it's extremely open," Hansen said.

Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Box.net, which provides online data storage and sharing, said Live Mesh could help entice more users to move their data off PCs and into online services. That would be good for his business, which has 1.6 million users, he said.

Levie, a Seattle native who worked on Box.net here after launching it in 2005, was pleased to hear that Microsoft is planning to make available application-programming interfaces and software-development kits for Live Mesh.

The service will also translate code from one programming language to another so developers can work in the language they're most comfortable with.

"Those are the kind of tool sets that you need to really get developer traction," he said. He added that the true benefit will depend on how open Microsoft makes Live Mesh to third-party developers.

The initial, preview release of Live Mesh is available for PCs running Windows Vista and XP. "Very quickly we'll enable that for mobile devices and the Mac," Hansen said.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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