A conversation with Ray Ozzie about Live Mesh

Ray Ozzie joined me for this week’s Perspectives show. It’s available there as audio plus a text transcript, and you can also watch the video on Channel 9.

Ray opens the conversation by reflecting on his transition to Microsoft three years ago, and on the roles he and Craig Mundie will play as they jointly inherit Bill Gates’ responsibilities.

Next the conversation turns to a meme that Tim O’Reilly once evangelized: the Internet operating system. That phrase never resonated as powerfully as Web 2.0 did, but the ideas behind it are becoming realities. Ray applauds the work that Amazon and Google have done in this area. And he talks about how Microsoft’s legacy as a platform company, dedicated to helping developers succeed, will influence its approach.

In that context, Ray explores one piece of Microsoft’s emerging Internet operating system: the newly-announced Live Mesh. Sharing common DNA with earlier projects, notably Groove and before that Notes, Live Mesh is a data synchronizer born to the Web. The objects that it synchronizes are represented as RSS and Atom feeds, and are manipulated with a RESTful API that works symmetrically on local and cloud-based nodes.

Although the most visible Live Mesh application is a file-and-folder synchronizer, Ray notes that this is just one example of an application pattern that can apply equally to the synchronization of custom objects, like calendar events, across all the devices in a mesh. It also applies across the spectrum of application types, ranging from the browser to conventional rich clients to Web-based rich clients like Flash and Silverlight.

There’s another pattern for Live Mesh applications, one that’s less familiar. In this pattern, a website uses Live Mesh as a pipeline to communicate with Live Mesh users. If you’re running a travel site, or a bank, you can use that pipeline to transmit structured data to your users — for example, itineraries or transaction reports. It’s easy to create those XML feeds, you can leverage the Live Mesh infrastructure to deliver them securely and reliably at scale, they synchronize across all devices in each user’s Live Mesh, and they’re accessible to local applications using same RESTful feed APIs that were used to create them.

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6 thoughts on “A conversation with Ray Ozzie about Live Mesh

  1. Hi Jon,

    A pity the interview page doesn’t have the direct link to the mp3 file in clear so I could add it to my listening queue (see http://pascal.vanhecke.info/2006/09/12/cathing-loose-mp3s-with-greasemonkey-and-delicious/ ).

    I looked it up in the source code now. I don’t know if the mp3 url is stable, I guess it will it least be for a while.

    If you include the direct link in your WP.com page here, it’ll be available for scripts like the userscript I use, and WordPress also automatically creates enclosures for linked mp3 files – that would benefit the people who have your regular blog feed in their podcatcher as well.

  2. Dear John,

    The following is something I just put on the Live Mesh wish list and sent to Steven Lees on the FeedSync team, abut I think it might be of some interest to you as well. There doesn’t seem to be an active discussion among the IE8, RSS, Live Mesh and Windows Live teams at MS about building a new web UI. Hope that you’ll take a moment to think on this and consider how MS could get leverage from one.

    I can’t be the sole user who sees the current emphasis in Live Mesh platform as the rudiments of a different UI, not just a device sync. I don’t, when it comes down to it, need device syncing as bad as I need better GTD / information-handling experiences on the web. I am feeling very cramped and frustrated with current client-side browsers and feed readers, especially from MS and third-party partners. Services / apps in this KM vein should be on the drawing board very soon at MS.

    Does MS want to leverage its huge investment in Windows Live and Live Mesh as the next generation ‘web’ UI? Changing the UI browser / KM experience on the web would seem to make much better strategic sense than hitching a company’s fate to companies like Yahoo, and trying to ‘drive’ users to particular sites on the web! If Live Mesh is just for peer-to-peer syncing, the platform will still miss the larger point about information overload. To wit, some thoughts:

    Information loads are driving a need for full-function browsing / KM tools, and IE8 is only a minor UI gesture in that direction. Increasingly, web browsing, whether through IE, Firefox or an RSS reader, is becoming too client-app heavy, and personal start-pages are not positioned to substitute for client-side functionality.

    If the dev team is serious about the FeedSync idea, then it would be nice to see evidence that it does what feeds were originally intended to do — make for a better web browsing / KM experience. How about putting FeedSync to use to create a Live Mesh hub for browsing that isn’t as client-app heavy? In the process, you would also consolidate a lot of the “social networking” user base under Live Mesh as well.

    MS currently has no serious KM tools in its client app inventory — in spite of IE’s dominance. Live Mesh would be a nice place to host that functionality, but these tools could just as easily be embedded in the IE8 client. Just depends on who at MS will ask for the green light first to create the code.

    At the moment, there are ‘baby steps’ toward this new web UI that should be taken, even though they haven’t been, in the current MS web UI:

    1. Lots of people are high-volume browser users — who have a reason to bookmark lots of info — but in any event have been too swamped to sync their bookmarks across multiple devices and keep on top of their bookmark structure. Therefore, MS needs a hyperefficient folder-tree builder for user-tagged/-bookmarked content. (Without it, a browser is not going to scale to meet current web navigation/research demands.)
    a. Hierarchies are vital for research, even when tagging, once you reach a certain volume of tags. So, think folder tree capabilities, even if you are only putting tags into folders, not the actual site bookmarks.
    b. Any other tool beats IE and Outlook at deftness of drag-and-drop for bookmarks/favorites/feeds folders. MS’ own client-side interface in IE and Outlook for reorganizing folders is a complete slug, totally unwieldy. IE and Outlook are collapsing under the weight of the info they have to handle.

    2. These browsing KM tools should allow people not just to bookmark / tag info, but to archive a snapshot of it on a mesh. (A local Google cache of sorts. This is what a cool new startup in alpha, Iterasi, is doing.)

    3. These browsing KM tools would be great if they had extensions to mesh with existing collaborative project spaces / live meeting areas. (Think of MS Groove or 37 Signals’ Basecamp or AirSet / MS LiveMeeting or Google’s Marratech or Citrix or Skype.)

    4. The entire mesh’s KM folder tree contents have to be exportable for offline work/reference and syncing with new devices and new browsing apps.
    a. The exported data has to sync into multiple folders on a client HDD simultaneously. (I don’t want the entire account just sent to a single folder on my HDD, which I’ll then have to manually dissect and refile. That just duplicates work and eliminates the advantage of saving the webpage and filing it at the same time, from within IE.) If it requires a client-side app, then fix SyncToy to make it easier to do so. Users will be grateful for this time-saver.
    b. The account’s contents must be exportable as bookmarks, with an intact folder tree.
    c. The account’s contents must also be exportable as entire archives (ZIPs), containing intact folder trees and nested webpage files. The pages can be saved as .mht files, as .pdf files (provided the links are live), or for browsers that don’t care enough to support .mht, as .html file folders.
    d. MS needs a web-clipping service (partial contents of a page, using a lasso or box, a la OneNote, and could even export clippings in OneNote’s OpenXPS format.)

    6. Automate the KM tools’ “discovery” of new content on HTML sites.
    a. Look into converting HTML pages into RSS feeds, or allow the tools to RSS scrape Windows Live Search results.
    b. More ideas under RSS (next item).

    7. RSS:
    a. The primary RSS constraint in MS apps so far is that you’re constrained in the Common Feeds setup to a ‘river of news’ view.
    b. Make the RSS feeds viewable in some subdirectory, like Favorites is, so that it’s easier to reorder the contents. The interface to create/edit folders within IE7 and Outlook is very sluggish and touchy. (You can only move one feed folder at a time up or down the list. No batch moves.) A folder for RSS would presumably fix that.
    c. Give the user the option to save a page in its RSS version, if a feed exists on the page. The advantages would be obvious: You can clean out the embedded ads and CSS clutter. (That would help save you guys a hefty amount on server-side storage bills too.)
    d. These tools should have a feed generator. Convert the pages you save into a custom feed that can be sent to your feed reader.
    e. Off topic, but related to exporting, I’m just going to say what has long annoyed me. You want to do the entire RSS movement a favor? RSS readers tend to obliterate folder trees when you backup/export your RSS feed collections as OPML files. If you have a large number of feeds, rebuilding them is an absolute nightmare. (See: IE, Outlook.) So, as a side project, create a small app or file format that exports or uploads RSS feeds back into readers, so that your previously-created nested folder tree for these feeds remains intact.
    f. Consider partnering with an RSS reader company.
    g. Along RSS lines, make these research tools lifestream capable. (Not a huge priority, but another natural marketshare. If you’re already using the toolbar add-in for bookmarking content, it should be shareable, and blog posts should be uploadable.)

    8. These tools have to be able to save “grey web” pages that you can’t otherwise permalink … that only materialize from the bowels a long search session that would be too labor-intensive to repeat.

    9. Look at the Onfolio getting started guide as a model of the kind of client Live Mesh browsing KM tools could be. It was the best organized research client, but MS has done nothing with it since buying it up in 2002. You’ll see a million ways its functions could be redesigned so that its functions boost the capabilities of IE8, or even OneNote, or Live Mesh.

    10. If the KM tools had the above export/sync features, and built-in client-side research organizer and RSS reader, MS would outcompete other browsing clients, and potentially change users’ browsing experiences.


  3. Is that a smiley at the bottom of the page?

    By the way, a thousand pardons for misspelling your very own name. Must have something to do with the brain’s built-in spellchecker.

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