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MobileMe steals Live Mesh thunder

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Recently I viewed Apple’s presentation for MobileMe. Here’s my quick take.

Live Mesh is a true platform, whose scope extends well beyond MobileMe. Yet Apple’s marketing message is so close to Microsoft’s that most users will not see that difference. Here’s Apple:

Wherever you are, your iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, and PC are always current and always in sync. And with a suite of elegant new web applications, you can access your data from anywhere.

And here’s Microsoft:

No more e-mailing attachments to yourself. Instead, synchronize the information you need across all your devices. The most up-to-date versions will be at hand when you need them - at home, at the office, and on the go.

Apple calls MobileMe “Exchange for the rest of us”. This is spot on. I got onto the internet in the early nineties. I opened a CIX account in 1991. I remember copying CIX scratchpads - all the downloaded messages - from one PC to another in an effort to keep them in synch. I moved on to POP3 email and still had problems. POP3 usually means deleting messages from the server when you download them; there is an option to leave messages on the server but it tends to be inefficient - I remember having clients that would simply create more and more duplicate messages if you did this. I tried Microsoft Outlook when it came out as part of Office 97, and copied the .PST file from PC to laptop to keep up to date. It was all horrible. Then I realised that Outlook only works properly as an Exchange client. I installed Exchange and loved it; it solved all my email synch problems.

Exchange is fine for corporates and the occasional geek, but Microsoft has done little to help individuals with their mail and contact synch problems. It acquired Hotmail in 1997, and came up with a series of half-baked connectors that synchronize Hotmail with Outlook or Outlook Express. After years of trying, these still do not work well; and I guess that IzyMail does good business enabling standard mail clients to work properly with Live.com accounts.

With MobileMe Apple is promising seamless Outlook integration, push email on the iPhone, synch across all devices, and an alternative web interface like Gmail combined with Google Calendar combined with online file storage up to 20GB. If it works well, it will be attractive even to PC users - though unlike Google’s services, you will have to pay a subscription. It will be $99.00 per annum for an individual, or $149.00 for a family pack.

Now, Live Mesh is great for file synch, but how do I synch email with it? Where is the Live Mesh calendar? Ah no, for that you need Live Mail. So does this work with Windows Mobile? A thread like this is all too familiar:

Using my T-Mobile Shadow with Windows Mobile 6.0, I tried to log on to my Windows Live Calendar. I receive the following message: JavaScript required to sign in. Windows Live ID requires JavaScript to sign in. This web browser either does not support JavaScript or scripts are being blocked.

Maybe you are meant to use Active Sync; but that won’t deliver push synchronization. And how about integrating your Windows Live Calendar with Outlook? There’s a connector but it’s for paid subscribers only. In fairness, Apple’s service costs as well. But Microsoft’s solutions to these problems are fragmented, inconsistent and frustrating. An it-just-works solution to personal information management (PIM) synchronization across all devices and on the web will be a winner. Exchange is nearly there already for corporate users (though if it were fully there, there would be no market for BlackBerry); but for individuals, MobileMe may come as a huge relief.

I still like Live Mesh, especially its promise as an application platform in conjunction with Silverlight. MobileMe is a lesser thing in concept, but if it works as promised, it will deliver more value sooner for individuals. The main thing against it is that it will work best with the expensive, locked-in iPhone; plus you have to suffer the embarrassment of a me.com email address, or continue to advertise Apple with .mac. Now, how about MobileMe for domains?

This article originally appeared in ITWriting.

Copyright © 2008, ITWriting.

A freelance journalist since 1992, Tim Anderson specializes in programming and internet development topics. He has columns in Personal Computer World and IT Week, and also contributes regularly to The Register. He writes from time to time for other periodicals including Developer Network Journal Online, and Hardcopy.

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