Last Night Microsoft announced a new product and service called Microsoft Mesh. It appears that everyone thinks this is the second coming. A really big deal.
I am unimpressed.
Well that’s not quite true. I am sure the technology is impressive. I just don’t buy the grand strategic vision. Mesh is a system that allows users to synchronize between multiple PCs and eventually cell phones. It is a very natural extension of the work Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie did with Groove before he joined Microsoft. Mesh is essentially a synchronized file system, where files on one computer can be automatically synchronized to a user’s other computers or to the cloud. The idea is that you create a "mesh" of devices, and you can make sure that any documents you have are on all of your devices. Mesh also allows for remote access to your computer so that you can actually run applications on your computer from another computer in the Mesh.
This is certainly the most robust synchronization system that has ever been implemented. But in my mind, the key question is, in the future how important will local file storage really be? And how often do average users really want to remotely run software from one machine on another?
The entire software industry is moving towards a world where all software runs in browsers from servers in the cloud. Microsoft’s strategy with Mesh is to maintain desktop software’s relevance. They would like the world to continue running local software and to keep files locally.
The reason for this is simple. Microsoft makes most of its money from Windows and Office. If people started using online alternatives to Office in large numbers, Microsoft would be crippled. Mesh is Microsoft’s effort to stop the software-as-a-service tsunami that could severely damage them.
I don’t think it will work.
I believe the future is one in which eventually all or most of our data will be stored in the cloud. Desktops and cell phones will, for most tasks, be terminals to the cloud, and so the concept of synchronization will be meaningless for most users. To be sure, there are solid use cases for synchronization but I don’t think sync is the best model for most people in most scenarios. And yes, Mesh does allow you to store data in the cloud as another data point in the mesh. But adding the desktop sync layer is, for most people, just not necessary, and I suspect will be generally perceived by mainstream users as an irrelevant added layer of complexity.
Personally, I am wary of installing some additional thing on my computer to make all of this work. Microsoft technology is rarely flawless and I don't want to be dependent on it if I don't have to. And as it is, I am essentially always online, and though I work with a Mac and a PC I never really feel like I am missing anything by not having them synched. For the most part, everything I need is already in the cloud, which allows me to access my data from any browser at any time.
And so, to me, Mesh is just the wrong answer. I am not saying it’s a bad thing. I just think it suggests a desire to change the momentum of the move to the cloud that can’t be stopped. The future is not the desktop. Microsoft should be busy doing the admittedly very hard job of making a version of Microsoft Office work from the browser. I would much prefer, instead of putting more software on my desktop, that Microsoft be working on getting most of my software *off* the desktop and into the cloud.