Before Microsoft Live Mesh arrived on the scene I used Groove to move files from my home to my work computer. And before Groove I used a product called Hamachi until Microsoft IT threatened to remove my machine from the network unless I shut it down. Something about it acting as an unauthorized node. That’s not a battle I’ll win so I began looking for a similar product when Mesh came to the rescue.
Mesh, Groove and Hamachi differ in many respects. But the one thing they all did was allow me to share files over multiple computers, even those behind a firewall. Mesh and Hamachi came with remote access as well.
Hamachi was buggy and slow. Groove was a beast to setup and keep running. Mesh is the best of the three. In fact, it’s a huge improvement over the others because it’s easy to setup and works in the background while the others require more babysitting.
I’m not going to cover all the features of Mesh. My needs are simple and I primarily use it for sharing and remote access. Simplicity is its virtue.
Once I’ve signed into Mesh I’m presented with a virtual desktop. From here I can add devices from which I’d like to share files. Only Vista and XP machines are currently supported with Mac access in limited preview. Microsoft reps have said wider device support is on the way including iPhone and Windows Mobile. Below you’ll see I’ve added Brett Home which and TSG Computer which are are my home and work computers respectively. I had to to install a small piece of software on each machine I’ve added to Mesh. But it runs in the system tray and stays out of the way.
Mesh also includes a virtual desktop as shown below. Create a folder on your virtual desktop (TSG Work for example) and Mesh creates an identical folder on the desktop of each computer you’ve added. So now that I have a TSG Work folder on my home and work computer I can add files to it and create subfolders which sync up between computers and my virtual desktop. Mesh syncs in the background. The only indications it’s running is the spinning blue circle in the system tray. Microsoft currently allows you to store 5 gigs worth of content on the virtual desktop.
Mesh doesn’t allow me to upload more than one file at a time to the virtual desktop. But I don’t use the virtual desktop very much. I’ll drag files and folders into my TSG Work folder at work and allow Mesh to sync and organize them on my virtual desktop and home PC. I only login to the virtual desktop when I need to add another folder or device to sync.
But what if I need to access a file on my work computer I’m not sharing but I’m on my home PC? Mesh allows me access my work computer via remote access. I’ve used a number of remote access products and Mesh is the easiest I’ve used. I wish it allowed me to drag and drop files between my desktop and remote machine, but that’s not a deal killer. When I remote into my work computer it’s usually to access a network share I can’t do from home. Below, I’ve connected to my work computer (black wallpaper) in a separate window.
Even the performance is quite good. There’s very little lag moving my mouse around the remote computer.
I’m adding Mesh to my list of favorite Microsoft products that includes Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Writer. I suspect Microsoft will continue adding native support for more devices including the Xbox and more phone models. Maybe even the Zune.
I would pay for this service although I’m glad it’s free. At least for now. Down the road I imagine Microsoft could offer more than 5 gigs of storage for a small annual fee.
Update: An Microsoft employee told me that native Windows Mobile support for Mesh is available when you login from this link. You must be running Windows Mobile 6.0 or 6.1.