Windows only (for the moment): Microsoft has thrown open the doors to a “tech preview” of its Live Mesh service, a kind of web-boosted version of Lifehacker favourite folder-syncing tool FolderShare, with a bit of remote desktop connection thrown in. Signing up with a Windows Live ID gets you 5 GB of space to store folders you want to keep in sync, either from computer to computer, or with the Live Mesh desktop itself. I explored the Live Mesh space this morning and took a few screenshots, so let’s take a look at what you can do.
Once you've signed up at Mesh.com, you'll arrive at the orbiting-devices-type screen seen above. If you're not just using Live Mesh as a Windows-only webtop, you'll want to set up synchronisation with your computer. Click over to the big "+" symbol, choose between 32- and 64-bit downloads, then hit "Install" to download the small installation file.
As you can see above, functionality for mobile devices and—drum roll, please—even Mac OS X systems is in the works. Double-click the downloaded file, and the installation is pretty straightforward, as you choose a name for your system. You'll know it's worked when you see a Live Mesh icon in your system tray, and see your computer listed as a sync-ready device:
Syncing folders to your Live Desktop is made pretty easy, at least while you're running the Live Mesh software. Simply right-click on a folder, choose "Add folder to your Live Mesh," then choose a sync style:
I'm not sure if those options are grayed out because it's still a "tech preview," or because none of my documents fit the bill. Regardless, hit "OK," and the folder's contents are sent to the cloud. You'll know it in the future, too, because Live Mesh turns the folder metallic blue on your desktop, and adds a Live Mesh sidebar whenever you open it in Explorer. You'll see the timing of your activities, and you can "post" notes to the folder to help you make sense of it all:
Pretty easy stuff, at least so far. Now comes the interesting (and Internet-Explorer-only) part: Remote connection to a computer desktop. Your computer has to be on, or at least wake-on-LAN, for this to be effective. If it is, though, you can get at it through your (IE, Windows) browser. After installing the ActiveX control on my wife's XP laptop, I was able to get at my own desktop:
The most noticeable missing feature is any ability to preview, let alone edit, your Office documents or pictures, or anything else, really, inside your Web desktop. If I have a folder of similarly-named files, I'd rather not download the whole thing and open them individually to find the one I'm looking for.
Note that the service is apparently "open" to anyone who obtains a Windows Live ID in the U.S., although the company itself has suggested a work-around for non-U.S. testers.
Taken as a whole, Live Mesh seems like a convenient way to set up remote access and folder synchronisation, at least for those who favour Internet Explorer and Windows. There's a new chapter to be written once mobile and Mac support arrives. What do you think of Live Mesh? Have you been using it while it was in beta, and what tips can you offer? Let's hear about it all in the comments.