The history of Windows Live Mesh

You might’ve heard that Microsoft recently decided to rebrand Windows Live Sync to Windows Live Mesh. But what was the story behind this great file synchronisation tool? We’ll give you a brief summary of the history behind Windows Live Mesh, right from the very beginning.

Windows Live FolderShareIt all started in 2005, three days after Microsoft introduced the “Windows Live” brand on November 1st, 2005, when they announced an acquisition to purchase FolderShare from ByteTaxi Inc, a software which allowed PC-to-PC sync of files and folders over the internet, and also enabled users to remotely access their files from the PCs under the sync relationship. But things didn’t change for almost three years, and for those users who were already using FolderShare, life went on. During these three years, Microsoft had been busy rewriting the entire FolderShare backend sync platform, moving it from LAMP to Windows Server. It wasn’t until March 2008 when Microsoft finally came out of the limelight to release Windows Live FolderShare, the first version under the “Windows Live” branding which was completely rewritten to make it run on the new Windows Server platform.

Live MeshIn the same year in April 2008, Microsoft also announced an incubation project called Live Mesh, headed by Ray Ozzie. Live Mesh was a new vision for Microsoft, based on FeedSync technology, and was even once envisioned to be the cloud OS from Microsoft. Indeed, besides PC-to-PC sync plus PC-to-Cloud sync (with 5GB of cloud storage),  Live Mesh also had a whole developer API behind it called the Live Framework. The Live Framework enabled developers to create applications to be run on the Live Mesh Platform, which could be synced between the devices as well as on the cloud. This meant that users will be able to use the same application, with the same underlying data, synced across all their devices with Live Mesh installed, as well as Live Desktop using the web browser. In October 2008, with the announcement of Microsoft’s cloud strategy, Live Framework also became part of the Azure Service Platform. With Live Mesh, Microsoft was ambitious – not only it supported Windows PCs, but it also had clients for Mac OS X and Windows Mobile 6. We’ve even seen Live Mesh running on Windows Home Server, Xbox, Zune, Ford SYNC, and using it to sync data between printers, digital cameras, and digital photo frames. The potential seems limitless with Live Mesh.

Windows Live SyncOf course, with Live Mesh, it would seem that Windows Live FolderShare was far more inferior in doing the same job. However, Microsoft continued to support both platforms, and in December 2008, Microsoft released Windows Live “Wave 3”, and together with that, they decided to rename Windows Live FolderShare to Windows Live Sync, and included it as part of Essentials. Not much changes were made to Windows Live Sync, except that it became the syncing agent behind Windows Live Toolbar and Photo Gallery in the Wave 3 era.

Live Mesh actually never made it out of beta (it began as a “technical preview”), and in January 2009, just one month after the final release of Windows Live “Wave 3”, Microsoft decided to move the entire Live Mesh team into Windows Live. Of course, what that meant was that the focus has now turned into how to best merge the Live Mesh technologies with Windows Live Sync. Being the superior product, the technologies behind Live Mesh was chosen to be the one to carry on. However, to get it from a limited beta software to a v1 product that is to be released to millions of Windows Live users, certain things had to give way to make it work. Indeed, the first to go was the Live Framework, officially discontinued in September 2009, with Microsoft promising to integrate the APIs into what is now called “Messenger Connect”.

sprite_logos_syncMicrosoft released the first beta of Windows Live Sync “Wave 4” in June 2010. Despite being called Window Live Sync, the software was completely based on Live Mesh, and given this, the old Windows Live Sync (“Wave 3”) was actually allowed to run concurrently with the new one, but working independently with one another, and Live Mesh will be uninstalled upon upgrade. Strangely, while being based on Live Mesh technologies, Microsoft actually wanted to “start out fresh”, and existing users of Live Mesh had no automatic upgrade path to the new Windows Live Sync (even the cloud storage was different with Windows Live Devices instead of Live Desktop). In addition, to the disappointment of many, the new Windows Live Sync only offered 2GB of cloud storage (compared to Live Mesh’s 5GB), and worst of all, the storage was not merged with SkyDrive’s 25GB (despite calling it the “SkyDrive synced storage”). Given it is a v1 product, and scalability issues of starting out as a limited beta, this was excusable.

Great news came in August 2010, when Microsoft decided to up the cloud storage limit back to 5GB, but also announcing the rebrand of Windows Live Sync to Windows Live Mesh. The new branding, according to Dharmesh Mehta, was because “the Sync name created some confusion for people because of other Microsoft products with the Sync name, and customers had really grown to like the Mesh brand." (Credits to Paul Thurrott) In fact, to add to the confusion, while it was never announced, actually got hold of an interim beta screenshot showing that Microsoft did consider naming it “Windows Live Devices” at Windows Live Devices (client)some stage (the same name as the web-based counterpart which allows users to manage their devices in the synced relationship and remotely access their computers via the browser). We’re quite glad that this name never made the cut!

So looking into the future, it would appear that one of the highest priority would be for Microsoft to look into the possibilities of merging the Windows Live Mesh storage with SkyDrive’s 25GB, and as such letting users take advantage of SkyDrive’s other features like Office Web Apps. Microsoft also mentioned that they may consider a paid option which allow users to purchase additional storage space in future releases. And what about Mesh for Windows Phone 7? What are your thoughts about the future of Windows Live Mesh? Let us know by leaving a comment below!