Windows Live Sync vs. Live Mesh vs. SkyDrive: Which is Right for You?

via Digital Inspiration – Technology Blog by Amit Agarwal on 12/20/08

The new Windows Live suite includes three different services for file storage and online synchronization. They are called Live Mesh, Windows Live Sync and Windows Live SkyDrive – all apps are available for free and you just need a Windows Live account to get started.

Windows Live SkyDrive

Windows Live SkyDrive is an online file storage service similar to Box.net. You can manually upload documents, pictures and other files to Windows Live servers via the browser and your uploads will remain accessible from any other computer or web-enabled mobile phone.

Windows Live SkyDrive requires no installation and you get 25 GB of free storage space though the maximum size of an individual file / document cannot exceed 50 MB. Each file or folder on SkyDrive has a unique Web address (URL), so you can easily paste that link into email messages or other documents for direct access.

Windows Live Sync

Windows Live Sync

Windows Live Sync, formerly known as FolderShare, is a desktop app + web service that lets you sync files and folders across different computers. You can synchronize up to 20 folders containing up to 20,000 files each. Individual files cannot be larger than 4 GB in size.

Say you have music files stored in your home computer’s hard disk and want to access this collection from the Office computer. Simply install Windows Live Sync of both the computers and add “my music” folder to your “personal folders” – now your entire music collection will be accessible from either of these computers.

Windows Live Sync also lets you remotely access your files on the hard drive from any other computer via the browser without setting up synchronization. This is handy in situations like where you have to download a presentation from your work computer that’s saved on the desktop – just browse to the desktop folder via Live Sync website and download the file.

Other than online synchronization, Windows Live Sync also lets invite family members and colleagues (as readers, contributors or owners) to access certain folders on your computer though they will have to install the Live Sync software for this.

Windows Live Mesh

Windows Live Mesh - Web View

Live Mesh includes everything that Windows Live Sync has to offer plus two extra features – cloud storage and remote desktop (with support for copy-paste).

You first need to download the Live Mesh software and then select folders / files that you want to sync with other computers. The process is almost the same as Live Sync but here you can add folders for synchronization from Windows Explorer itself (right click any folder and click “Add Folder to Live Mesh”) while Live Sync only offers a web interface to explorer.

When you add any folder to Live Mesh for synchronization, a copy of that folder gets stored online so you will always have access to your files even if the main computer is offline. This service is known as Live Desktop and offers 5 GB of online storage space.

Another important difference between Live Mesh and Windows Live Sync is Live Remote Desktop – Live Mesh lets you completely control the remote desktop just like other screen sharing application. You can even copy files and folders from the remote desktop to your local desktop through simple copy paste – copying folders manually is not possible in Windows Live Sync.

Both Live Mesh and Windows Live Sync offer clients for Windows and Mac but you may also install Live Mesh on mobile phones running Windows Mobile 6.1 or later.

Which Live Service is right for me? As expected, each of these Live services do have some overlapping features. Live Skydrive is for online storage, Live Sync is primarily for folder synchronization across computers (no storage) while Live Mesh offers a good mix of both though with limited storage space(5GB). Therefore my suggestion would be to go with SkyDrive as well as Live Mesh – you’ll get plenty of storage space plus remote desktop plus you can access important files from any other computer.

Windows Live Sync vs. Live Mesh vs. SkyDrive: Which is Right for You?

Digital Inspiration

Microsoft to launch new MSN Toolbar beta – Powered by Silverlight

Later today we should see the reincarnation of MSN Toolbar in beta form (codename Salsa). Like many older MSN products, it migrated over to the new Windows Live brand early 2007, however as part of the gradual drift back, its been revamped with a new look.

So what’s new apart from the Vista styled UI? Well perhaps the biggest thing is that the toolbar is powered by Silverlight, which adds an extra dimension to the features on offer. This enables the drop-down MSN chanel previews, showing the latest content from within the MSN portal without requiring the user to move from the internet page they are currently browsing. From the same preview pane users can also chose to search that part of the site, which brings us onto the 2nd main feature – Live Search.

Although web search and toolbars have gone hand in hand for as long as I can remember, the new MSN Toolbar beta adds a few twists. Firstly, and definitely most controversially, when you perform a search query on another search engine, the toolbar search box will auto-populate itself should you wish to view results from Live Search. This seems like a bit of a grey area in terms of user privacy, so I’m sure we’ll inevitably hear complaints about it soon enough. As mentioned above, the toolbar also allows users to tailor their search to specific MSN channels using the preview panes.

Finally there’s a breaking news feature, bringing the latest news direct to your browser. At the end of the day though, a toolbar is a toolbar, so there’s not a huge amount to get excited about – what is exciting is seeing just how much Silverlight could be used for. Of course there is the added bonus for Microsoft in that requiring users to install Silverlight for core products such as this will increase penetration into the mass-market. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Users who want to participate in the managed beta on Connect will be able to sign up soon through the Available Connections page. The toolbar homepage is also up, however there is no download available yet.

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A look at the Live Maps high-res cameras

I would love one of those…

I wonder how heavy it is?

Didn’t get the digital camera you wanted for Christmas? Then maybe you should consider buying yourself one of these, an UltraCamX Large Format Digital Aerial Camera. Producing images with a 216 megapixel resolution, these cameras are used to take the high-resolution imagery used within VirtualEarth/Live Maps. A word of warning though, Microsoft’s press release in Nov 2007 shows that only 3 UltraCamX systems have been purchased in North America since they went on sale in May 2006. Better start saving for next Christmas then.

UltraCamX data sheet

Of course you’ll also need to buy a “low cost” data unit as well to keep the images taken, which with storage of 1.7TB will apparently be enough for approximately 4700 images. With a camera like this, its easy to see why the monthly Virtual Earth imagery additions consist of TB’s of data. December saw 36TB added, including 44 new cities that feature UltraCamX imagery. Unfortunately most of the new additions are within the USA, however Tokyo was lucky enough to be part of the update. The images are so good that at full zoom you can even see the lines dividing the running tracks at the athletics stadium – check it out.

Screen Shots: What Windows Live Is (and Isn’t)

Confused what Microsoft’s Windows Live is — and isn’t? This gallery is designed to help demystify Microsoft software services initiative, as well as to capture for posterity the rapidly changing Live family.

It is easier to show than tell what Microsoft’s Windows Live is — and isn’t. Here are as many screenshots as I could round up of some of the shipping, beta and still-officially unacknowledged set of Microsoft software services known as “Windows Live.” Because Microsoft is in the midst of a rebranding campaign and strategy shift in the Live space, any of these services could disappear at a moment’s notice. You’ve been warned.

First up: Windows Live Alerts. Still in beta, this free instant-notification service is currently free and available in the U.S., Canada and China only.

“However, some content providers may charge for using their content with our service. Wireless service charges may apply for receiving or replying to alerts on wireless devices. Check your wireless service plan for details,” Microsoft cautions testers.

Windows Live Mail now "Windows Live Hotmail"

In an attempt to allay confusion over its new AJAX-enabled webmail system, Microsoft said Thursday that Windows Live Mail was being renamed to Windows Live Hotmail. The decision follows a recent switch to keep the classic Hotmail interface for existing users.

Microsoft says that during beta testing, which began last March, it learned that users were “extremely loyal to the Hotmail brand” and “a bit confused by name change.” Therefore, it hopes the Windows Live Hotmail name will reiterate that the new service retains what users liked about the old system.


“As we prepare to launch the final version of our new web mail service, we recognize the importance of ensuring that our 260+ million existing customers come over to the new service smoothly and without confusion,” Windows Live Hotmail senior product manager Richard Sim wrote. “We hope you like the approach we’re taking and see this as a positive change.”

Initial responses weren’t that positive, however, noting the constant name-changing and rebranding going on under the Windows Live moniker.

“I understand the notion of loyalty; however, this is a new system and a new service. So why confuse users by merging two names of dissimilar systems. Starting new needs to be seen not as a detriment but as a way to start fresh and lure new customers into the system,” replied a user named Dave K.

Other users asked how the name change would affect Windows Live Mail Desktop, the Windows-based application that integrates with the webmail service while offering support for third party POP and IMAP e-mail accounts. “So will we have ‘Windows Live Hotmail Desktop Mail for Windows’ soon?” quipped a user named Gregor.

Microsoft recently rolled out Milestone 9 of Windows Live Hotmail, but has yet to announce when the system will replace Hotmail. With pressure coming from both Google, Yahoo and AOL, Microsoft is wary about making any major changes to Hotmail that could push users away from the service, even if those changes are simply upgrading functionality.

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Windows Live Mail Plus to offer 4GB storage

As more Windows Live services launch out of beta in the next few months, one of the unanswered questions still remains around premium subscribers. Some good news for Hotmail Plus users comes in the form of Windows Live Mail Plus, which is currently only marketed in Holland.

Features:

  • 4GB inboxes from Spring 2007 *New*
  • Attachments upto 20MB
  • No advertisements (across several Windows Live services, including Mail, Mail desktop and Spaces)
  • Microsoft Outlook access
  • No disabling of your account due to inactivity
  • Yearly cost remains at €19.99, expected £14.99 and $19.99 when launched in other regions

While the addition of 4GB storage may seem like overkill for email, Gmail is currently on ~2.8GB, it makes more sense if you can share it between services. While Live Drive is not yet released, this would seem like an appropriate place for it to integrate with Windows Live.

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Nemo surfaces! Windows Live for TV in the wild

Here’s a little something to kick off our birthday celebration in style! Back in October, we reported on Project Nemo, a Windows Live product for Media Center being developed behind the closed doors of Redmond. Well now the little project has made its debut on Windows Live Ideas (for some reason you must be signed into ideas.live.com with a US Live ID for the link to work).

Ten points for each person you can identify in the shot. Smile

That’s right, Nemo is back with a new look and a new name. They’re calling it exactly what you would expect, Windows Live for TV. Live TV is an additional program for Windows Media Center which will provide access to Spaces, Messenger, and Live Call, all wrapped up in a ten foot interface. Here’s the feature list from Ideas:

• Browse millions of Spaces in rich 3D graphics with new Gallery views and full keyword search
• Find out what your friends have been doing and saying on Windows Live Spaces
• Have real-time text and voice conversations*
• Call your friends’ mobile or landline telephones by signing up with Verizon Web Calling to make affordable domestic and international calls**
• Easily navigate with your mouse, keyboard or a TV remote (remote navigation requires Microsoft Media Center Remote and IR)
• Make free PC-to-PC calls to other Windows Live Messenger users.

*Both parties must have compatible webcams, microphones, and speakers
**Requires voice calling in Windows Live Messenger Client

This is how the team blog, In Orbit, defines the application:

“Windows Live for TV is an early beta 3D browser application that makes it easy to connect to your social network as well as friends and family from within Vista Media Center or IE7.0. You’re be able to view the best of Windows Live Spaces and communicate with Friends and Family over Windows Live Messenger 8.1 with voice & text chat as well as make a phone call.

Media Center has brought the PC to heart of the home, adding Windows Live services to Media Center will make it easier to stay in touch with your social network. Our goal in creating Orbit is to bring social networking to a new form factor that is both intuitive and fun to use. We built the application in Windows Presentation Framework (.NET 3.0) and it will run within Vista Media Center or directly in Vista hosted IE7.0 browser.”

For those of you out there who are hoping to use it on Windows XP Media Center, I think you are going to be out of luck. WL for TV will require a PC running Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate.

LiveSide on OrbitIt’s nice to see that this killer application is getting its chance to shine. You can sign up to test Windows Live for TV here. And so it begins…

Update
Just to be clear, the project is no longer being referred to as Nemo, the new codename is Orbit.

Update 2: Added a couple of shots of my own (Click to Enlarge)

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Working with the Virtual Earth Map Control

The Virtual Earth map control is the power behind Windows Live Local. Using the Virtual Earth 3.1 map control (VE) APIs, you too can create some amazing location based applications of your own. I’ve worked with VE on a few projects now and have a new tips that I thought I’d pass along. Some of these can be found scattered on the Internet, while others I figured out on my own. In any case, here are some of tips that may help you on your next Virtual Earth project. A word of caution: some of the ideas presented here are undocumented and therefore could change in future versions of the VE API.

Route not showing up?

If you are using map.GetRoute() and are having problems with the route showing up on the map, make sure your web page is encoded with UTF-8. This can be done by adding the a meta tag to the HTML in the section, as show here:

<meta equiv=""Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />

You can also set the encoding in ASP.NET like this:

Response.ContentType = "text/html";
Response.ContentEncoding = Encoding.UTF8;

Roll your own alerts messages

Some of the VE APIs will cause VE to display a visual error message on the screen. Your application may not want this as VE’s default formatting (to some) may leave something to be desired. Here is an example of what is displayed on the map when you use the API function Find() to locate “movie theater“.

As you can see, is is asking if we really meant “movie theatre” (note the difference in spelling). While this may be a perfectly acceptable thing to do if the search query came from user input, ours came from hard coding, so of course we meant “movie theater“. We don’t want to bother the user with unneeded visuals.

Well, lucky for us, there is an undocumented public method of the map control that is called when VE displays an error message. It’s called ShowMessage(txt). As you can see in the code below, we can easily override this method to do something else. In this case we simple take the passed parameter (i.e. the error message) and display it within a div element.

When you run the code, click on the button on the left to see what happens natively (i.e. you will get the built-in error message popup). Clicking the button on the right will override the built-in ShowMessage and instruct VE to call our code instead (which simply ignores the error message). We put things back to normal when we’re done.

The complete code is shown below. You can run the sample here (or right click and select “Save Target As…” to get the source code).

"-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
"http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" >

My VE Demo
<meta equiv=""Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
<style type=""text/css">
body, html, .map {
position:relative;
width:100%;
height:100%;
margin:0;
overflow:hidden;
}
.plotControl {
position:absolute;
right:5px;
top:5px;
width:220px;
padding:5px;
border:solid 1px #cccccc;
background-color:white;
filter:alpha(opacity=90);
-moz-opacity:0.9;
opacity:0.9;
}

<script type=""text/javascript" src=http://anonymouse.org/cgi-bin/anon-www.cgi/http://www.liveside.net/blogs/developer/archive/2006/11/07/"http://dev.virtualearth.net/mapcontrol/v3/mapcontrol.js">
<script type=""text/javascript">
var vemap; //our map object
var saveShowMessage; //pointer to the original ShowMessage function

function onLoad() {
vemap = new VEMap("map"); //create the map
vemap.LoadMap();
saveShowMessage=vemap.ShowMessage; //save original function pointer

var plotControlEl = document.getElementById("plotControl"); //add our custom control
vemap.AddControl(plotControlEl);
plotControlEl.style.top = "";
plotControlEl.style.left = "";
}
function ourShowMesage(txt) {} //do nothing

function plotDefault() {
vemap.Find("movie theater", "", 1);
}
function plotNoAlert() {
vemap.ShowMessage=ourShowMesage; //redirect alert messages to our code
vemap.Find("movie theater", "", 1, callback);
function callback() {
vemap.ShowMessage=saveShowMessage; //restore original value
}
}
window.onload=onLoad;



class="map" id="map">

class="plotControl" id="plotControl">
Plot Theaters:
<button onclick=""plotDefault();">Default
<button onclick=""plotNoAlert();">No Alert



Custom Control positioning with CSS

Like many of you, I prefer to leave much of my formatting up to CSS. But when I added my first custom control to a VE map using AddControl(), I found that the CSS positioning that I specified was being overridden by VE and set to 0,0. After a while, I determined that VE was setting the position of the element itself to style.left=”0″ and style.top=”0″. So all you have to do is clear these values after adding the custom control and the values you have in the style sheet will dictate the custom control’s position as you would expect.

var plotControlEl = document.getElementById("plotControl"); //add our custom control
vemap.AddControl(plotControlEl);
plotControlEl.style.top = "";
plotControlEl.style.left = "";

Longitude and Latitude encoding

Another little know VE class is VELatLongEncoding. It contains 2 methods, Encode and Decode. Encode takes 2 floating point numbers representing a coordinate latitude and longitude and returns a encoded string 12 characters long. Decode takes an encoded string and returns an array with 2 elements. The first element is a float represents latitude and the second longitude.

Below is a little “do nothing” code that retrieves the current map position, encodes it into a string, decodes it and repositions the map. You will notice some rounding error during the encoding/decoding process if you use a debugger to step through the code.

var enc = new VELatLongEncoding(); //create an instance of the Encoding class
var latlong = vemap.GetCenter(); //get the current map center
var str = enc.Encode(latlong.Latitude, latlong.Longitude); //encode it into a string
var ll_array=enc.Decode(str); //decode the string into an array
vemap.SetCenter(new VELatLong(ll_array[0], ll_array[1])); //reposition the map (to the same place)

I’m going to leave the “why” behind the need to encode/decode a latitude/longitude up to you. I’m sure some of you will find this useful.

Conclusion

There are many resources available for working with Virtual Earth, but the best place to start my be Virtual Earth’s home on dev.live.com. There you will find the Virtual Earth Interactive SDK which is a fun way to learn how to use the Microsoft Virtual Earth map control APIs. The Interactive SDK shows you how the map control works and provides the complete code you need to implement the task on your own page.

Also on dev.live.com you will find sample mashups that use the Virtual Earth map control, along with articles explaining how they were written

  • Show Your Contacts on a Map – This demo uses the Windows Live Contacts control and Virtual Earth to (yes, you guessed it) show your contacts on a map. see article | run demo
  • Start a Party – Takes this approach one a step further by using the Virtual Earth’s Find feature to locate restaurants, bars, bowling alleys etc and emails personalized driving directions to your friends. see article | run demo
  • Crash a Party – Yet another step further by adding events (such as those from eventful.com) and Virtual Earth’s “collections”. see article | run demo

You will find that Virtual Earth is relatively simple to start using and, as you dive in deeper, very powerful. Hopefully some of these tips will help you write better Virtual Earth web applications.

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Live Mail gets update to M8

Earlier this week Live Mail update features numerous UI and userability enhancements, but currently is only available to users on selected server bays. The update also includes:

  • “Send Email As” feature that allows users to send mail from other email addresses.
  • More contact viewing options
  • A contacts importer

Some of you may remember that the previous updates have not been the smoothest, so now they will be rolling out the new features to all users over several weeks.

Pictures tell a thousand words, so check out the update for yourself. As always, if you want to experience the update yourself, you can change the url of your Live Mail account to use bay 117 (http://by117w.bay117.mail.live.com/). One thing I’ve noticed for free accounts is that the Flare header is slightly obscured due to the banner advertising, something you probably won’t see in the PR or marketing pictures when Mail finally launches.

Screenshots (Click to enlarge):

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Windows Live Mail desktop Refresh: Better late than never

The MoreThanMail team blog jumped the gun a little bit last night and announced the availability of their newest public build of Windows Live Mail desktop just a little bit before it was ready to go live. Thankfully, the technical issues have been resolved and build 1083 is now up on ideas.live.com.

Here’s what’s new in this build:

Bug Fixes – This is always a given, but there are over 150 fixed since the last release.
Update Feeds Button – Exactly what you would think. A button that refreshes your RSS feeds.
Minimize to System Tray – This is a huge one for me and a feature that I have missed since switching to Mail desktop from Outlook.
Sign in with 3rd Party Live ID’s – This is for those of you whose Live ID is not an @msn.com, @hotmail.com, @live.com, or any of the other Microsoft produced domains.

Those are the four most significant features of the new release (at least for me), but other improvements include Easier Help Options and a change that makes your Current View Settings stick.

For those already using Windows Live Mail desktop, you can download it directly from here:

Those of you who have not yet tried it, you have to go through ideas.live.com. This is the link for you: Ideas Signup/Download

Check out the MoreThanMail Blog for more: Here

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