Files, folder and disks on the web: Live Mesh, SkyDrive or Groove?

I admit it, I'm not at the front of the technology curve. Why? I just recently learned about Live Mesh and I got really impressed (have I been hiding under a rock?, no I've been on paternal leave for six months :-). When SkyDrive (part of the Live offering) was launched I tried it with a few files but didn't really see what I would use it for. It was storage on the web without a simple interface; to edit a file I needed to download it, edit it and upload it.

The experience with Live Mesh is completely different from SkyDrive, at least when you install the software client on your device. Live Mesh folders appear on my Desktop as normal folders and files in them can be edited just like any other file on my disk. And when a change is made to a file that change is synchronized across all connected devices as well as being available through the web client. In the future I will even be able to synchronize files with my smartphone running Windows Mobile, cool!

Tonight my wife and I spent an hour trying to figure out how we should use Live Mesh to collaborate. We installed the client on her laptop and I gave her access to one of my mesh folders and then we tried creating and updating a few files to see how the changes were synchronized. Our test document was a shopping list, as good as any test...

In the near future I see us using Live Mesh when we create an application for a building permit, we want to extend our house some. As the application for this building permit is completely web based (e-government you know) we need to collect drawings and other documents before submitting the application, and what better place than Live Mesh to do this? We will both have access to the same files and we can both contribute to the application.

If I like Live Mesh so much why have I mentioned Groove in the title? Groove is also a network-based disk drive used to share folders and files, which it has in common with Live Mesh. However, Groove differs from Live Mesh in that its purpose being much more focused on collaboration between a number of people within the same company. To me the two biggest advantages of using Groove over Live Mesh are: automatic synchronization of updates in Office documents if several people have updated the same document and ability to synchronize the content of SharePoint document libraries.

I see Live Mesh an an important part of Microsoft’s vision for cloud computing; data stored on a local device is (almost) simultaneous accessible on other device and in the cloud. To me this represents a case where the vision of "software plus services" shows its strength. The service are the folders and files in the mesh and the software is the application on the device. The service can be accessed through a web interface but the software part enhances the experience beyond the simple collaboration scenarios of SkyDrive and enables much better and cooler scenarios. So the software is not a requirement for accessing the service, but it provides a richer experience.

Currently Live Mesh is only supported in a selected number of countries and it has the status of being a Tech Preview.

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