Microsoft's development of a Web-based device-synchronization service called Live Mesh shows that the software vendor is trying hard to shed its desktop PC heritage without completely playing against its strengths, several industry analysts said Wednesday.
Live Mesh, which Microsoft announced as a "limited technology preview" release, is intended to enable technology users to easily and automatically synchronize word processing files, photos and other content among their various computers and other high-tech devices. Users also will be able to share content with friends, family members and other people who are using the new service, according to Microsoft.
"The announcement finally puts something real behind Microsoft's 'Software + Services' slogan," said Neil MacDonald, an analyst at Gartner Live Mesh is "not tied just to Windows," MacDonald noted. "It acknowledges that no single device will dominate in the world of the consumer Web."
For developers, he added, the synchronization service is language- and platform-neutral. And, MacDonald said, "unlike traditional Microsoft-architected products, the architecture of Live Mesh is based on small, loosely coupled services."
Nonetheless, Microsoft remains committed to a hybrid of desktop and Web computing, in opposition to Google, Salesforce.com and other competitors that are betting on purely online-centric software-as-a-service (SaaS) or cloud computing models.
"Live Mesh represents an effort to catch up to the Web 2.0 movement," said Jeff Kaplan, an analyst at Thinkstrategies, a SaaS-focused consulting firm. "Microsoft is now trying to define this trend in its own terms."
Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at ZapThink, thinks that Microsoft is moving backward, not forwards.
"Instead of coming up with an offering that enables Microsoft to participate in that world of collaborative, Web-based applications, they are taking a page from their old playbook and trying to move Web 2.0 to the proprietary Windows platform," Bloomberg said. "To be fair, Live Mesh is an exciting technology for Windows users and will likely contribute to a social networking environment similar to Web 2.0 -- but as it will be proprietary, few people outside Microsoft would truly classify it as Web 2.0."
MacDonald sees the online services market as young and ill-defined enough that the Live Mesh announcement immediately "puts Microsoft in the running with other providers of cloud-based platforms," including Google, Amazon.com Inc. and IBM.
But, he said, "what was clearly missing from the announcement is how Microsoft intends to monetize the technology over time." Live Mesh users will get 5GB of online data storage for free. MacDonald expects Microsoft to charge for higher amounts of data, "but this can't just be a storage-based fee model."
Moreover, since the technology is so new, Microsoft didn't trot out its usual plethora of business partners "to demonstrate what could be done with this platform," MacDonald said. He added that Live Mesh's synchronization capabilities are "cool, but most consumers could do something similar today -- not as quickly or easily -- just copying files around between devices."