This is a follow on to my post on Apple in the enterprise; breaking news changed my direction and focus for this post. Live Mesh represents, to me, the first solid example of a post-Bill Gates change at the company. It may not have been possible as few as five years ago, any more than .NET was possible in the early '90s.
I'm calling this the fifth version of Microsoft. 1.0 was Microsoft as a little tools company, 2.0 was DOS and the ramp to Office, 3.0 was Windows 95/NT and the move to the back office, 4.0 was the initial move to .NET and the building of a robust Internet/intranet focused product and tool set, and 5.0 is embracing open source concepts with a massive redirection towards collaboration and sharing.
Just as .NET was the physical representation of the last major change at Microsoft, Live Mesh appears to be the best representation of this wave. But not only will it better position Microsoft for the future, it could also be used to advantage by those wishing to co-exist in the Microsoft ecosystem. That includes Apple.
Now some are arguing Silverlight is part of this new Microsoft. Actually, Silverlight was something that was sidelined during Microsoft's third big change; it was then called "Chrome." Had it arrived then, it would have probably been where flash is now, but it didn't and now Microsoft is playing a little catch up.
Let's talk about what Live Mesh means.
Live Mesh: Location Independent Computing
To net out Live Mesh, it is a technology that basically caches everything you might want to access, keeps that information current and synchronized between devices, and provides a way to manage the result. Another way of putting this is that Live Mesh is sync applied to almost everything. Clearly where it won't work is in real-time communications where responses have to be done instantly. But for most everything else we do, this could be a godsend.
For instance, for browsing the Internet it functions as a super proxy server, caching the content you need and both speeding your interactions when connected and allowing you to interact when disconnected. In fact, you probably won't even know the difference in many instances (unless the disconnection is prolonged, as it isn't magic). This should even out traffic and reduce the spiking we currently get at certain times of the day on our networks.
But this goes well beyond just the data to applications that can now be moved and synchronized across platforms. The core benefit here may be invisible patching and testing that can be more completely done, because the providers will know more about the systems they are pushing the patches to, resulting in higher reliability. While this won't eliminate patches, it should make most transparent which, to the end user, could appear to be the same thing.
One of the most anticipated benefits would be the potential for seamless migrations to new hardware. Basically, you'd log into your new machine and all of your data and applications would pass to the new hardware. Coupled with license management and a hosted repository, this would not only address many of the backup problems folks have but potentially give Windows PC users a migration experience that could exceed the one that Apple users get.
How Live Mesh Benefits Apple in the Enterprise
Live Mesh is designed to be a cross-platform utility. While the initial target is things like cell phones, the reality is that it could be used in conjunction with any platform, in theory including the MacOS and Linux. This would allow for the development of mirrored applications that would access common data types, which could be shared across these platforms, be they PCs or smartphones.
There doesn't appear to be a requirement that these data types be Microsoft data types either, as the data-syncing capability appears to be just that. If applications are to be synchronized as well, they would need to be written to the new open Live Mesh APIs so they can be pushed down with the same service and utilize the same tools to provide seamless patching and updates.
Licensing would need to be worked out. This isn't a "write once run everyplace" Java-like offering, so applications would still need to run native to get the most benefit. (You could do virtualization but that would detract somewhat from the solution.)
Wrapping Up: Microsoft 5.0 - The More Open Microsoft
We'll see where Microsoft 5.0 takes us. Much like the previous reinventions of the company, this one will result in major changes to a number of existing products and new offerings like this Live Mesh solution. But, in this instance, the focus on collaboration and interoperability should result in the biggest internal change in the company's history. And it may allow Microsoft to finally address materially the trust issues it has with its partners and competitors. We'll see. The only certainty is that it represents change and that the direction, particularly for this offering, appears positive.
For me, just the chance of never having to pound through another migration between Windows machines would be easily worth the price of admission. It will take a couple of years for this to reach its potential; I'm thinking they will seem to be really long years.