Add a ‘Windows Live PC for Mac’ to your Live Mesh with Silverlight

In this series of posts I’ve introduced the idea of a virtual ‘Windows Live PC‘.  I’ve talked about how your Xbox could be the ubiquitous PC in your household without any software application installations, thanks to a potential expansion of the currently disclosed Web Desktop (storage service) in Microsoft Live Mesh, with the addition of RemoteApp from Windows Server 2008.

Silverlight 2.0+ is the SUPER TROJAN HORSE onto the Mac, Linux and I believe there could be more platforms to come (see next post…)

Some developers may already be wondering why they should bother with HTML, AJAX, DOMs, DHTML, Javascript, etc. now that they can provide a hugely rich WPF Windows application in a browser using their existing .NET skills (plus WPF), and when that browser can be IE and Firebox on Windows, Safari on Mac, and whatever it is on Linux, without any of the nightmare that cross-browser standards-compatibility creates.

In previous posts I said that my notional ‘Windows Live PC’ will run (via RemoteApp) on anything that can handle the necessary technology stack with the xbox 360 being more than enough.  It seems to me that Silverlight 2.0 (or perhaps a later interation) could easily talk the Remote Desktop protocol.  Once that happens Microsoft can be selling you a ‘Windows Live PC’ subscription on your Mac and all those Windows-targeting ISVs can now license their product onto a Mac or Linux!!!

Note that there is already a Remote Desktop Client for Mac, but with the potential for Microsoft to offer a virtual ‘Windows Live PC’ running full screen, the Mac could fade into just a remoteapp client to a ‘Windows Live PC’ albeit a great new channel for the Windows and ISV software licensing – now that’s what I call leveraging!

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The Microsoft ‘Windows Live PC’ is coming to The Mesh – IMHO

This is the 2nd in a series of posts about Microsoft Live Mesh – check out the Live Mesh tag for the others.

I’ve said that I think Microsoft Live Mesh is approximately FolderShare + FeedSync + Remote Desktop + Live Core Services.

Mesh provides a Web-based Live Desktop which currently looks like FolderShare/SkyDrive with 5GB on cloud-based storage with a new web interface that looks like Explorer.  Your can remote desktop to Vista/XP devices in your mesh, but the web-based desktop does not currently…  provide an application/process execution environment that you could remote desktop to…  see where this could be going?

For those not familiar with remote desktop, it’s the ability to have an XP/Vista or Windows Server computer running somewhere and have your login experience appear where you are – that means the keyboard, monitor, mouse & speakers  at the computer you are using (and even local hard drives and printers) can connect to your remote physical desktop (or login on a windows server) and it feels like you are physically sitting in front of your remote physical machine.  To do this, your local machine needs to be able to run the remote desktop client software.  You can run the client full screen or in a window.  Many people work form home by using a home PC to connect to their work PC.  There are performance limitations to this, but it works just fine for information workers and develops in many cases.  Intense A/V experience don’t remote so well.

So you can remote your physical XP/Vista desktop and use it on the machine you have.  This is a user using their computer remotely.  The experience can also be shared so that the regular user can be at the physical PC and a remote user can share the experience – this is Remote Assistance and allows IT support staff to help users through procedures. 

Windows Server 2003 (and a little earlier) provides Terminal Services – whereby multiple virtual (no physical keyboard, video & mouse) desktop sessions can be present on a server with each desktop session connected to by a user on a PC.

Windows Server 2008 introduced RemoteApp: “Terminal Services (TS) RemoteApp and TS Web Access allow programs that are accessed remotely to be opened with just one click and appear as if they are running seamlessly on the end user’s local computer.”  So rather than remoting the whole desktop, one or more single application windows appear on the local machine which are really running on a server somewhere… 

Back to my ‘Windows Live PC’ concept.  Live Mesh provides this Web-based Live Desktop which as I said currently is a folder storage services but it has a Windows Explorer-like UI.  What would happen if you could actually double-click on a file and the appropriate application would launch, and without having to install anything!  Yep, put Windows Server 2008 behind the Live Mesh web desktop and you have Live PC – a PC anywhere. 

Such a ‘Windows Live PC’ would open up a huge subscription model for Windows and applications.  Microsoft could provide a service-provider infrastructure so that instead of selling you software by download or on DVD, you could just license the service through Microsoft (or perhaps independent hosting).  Instant deployment.  This would make Windows Marketplace something worth looking through.

Microsoft may have had a struggle moving enterprise licensing to a subscription model with the horribly executed (at least initially) Software Assurance scheme, but the ‘Windows Live PC’ concept I’ve covered here could be the beginning of real subscription licensing of Windows… everywhere…  Ray Ozzie, I know what you’re up to – I may even be up for sharing the vision if you have a suitable offer 🙂

While such a named product has not been announced to my knowledge, in subsequent posts in this series I’ll examine how Microsoft could make ‘Live PC’ available on many devices and operating systems!

Will You Get Caught Up in the Microsoft Live Mesh?

Over the next few posts I’ll explorer the trojan horse that (I believe) Microsoft is building, including in your living room, your car and on other platforms.

I’m sure many posts have been written about Mesh but I hope to succinctly tell you what direction this could all be going in, as I see it.

I’ve framed this as a trojan horse because Mesh appears to be aimed at the consumer or at least the mobile/home workers.  What it could turn into is a great online strategy for Microsoft and a real move to subscription based Windows everywhere!

It has been touted as a great platform for developers but my current feeling is that there will only be a handful of killer apps that can be built on top of this platform as currently explained, and Microsoft could well build those itself.  Keep ready this series for the real ISV opportunity…

Mesh was mentioned briefly at the Mix conference, which was a mostly empty delivery of news and rehash of Silverlight news.  See the Silverlight tag on this blog for a recap.  Announcing Mesh after the Mix may have been a timeline slip, or it may not matter since access to Mesh previews has been heavily limited.  Perhaps Microsoft has learned to temper excitement to new ideas… or the timeline slipped…

As currently explained Microsoft Mesh seems to approximate to FolderShare + FeedSync + Remote Desktop + Live Core Services.

Conceptually it’s a set of cloud-based management for shared folders, device membership and a central activity news feed.  XP and Vista machines can join your mesh (by installing components on each desktop – with support for other devices coming later), but your mesh starts with one special device up front – a web-based Live Desktop that has 5GB of storage – I’ll come back to this in subsequent posts, but for now think of it as virtual storage only (like Microsoft SkyDrive) with a Explorer-like web interface.  The cloud maintains information about notional ‘meshed’ folders that are made real on one or more real device file system and/or the web desktop’s 5GB.  A share appears on each device (selected for share) as a folder positioned in the file system by the user.

So, once you have devices in a mesh and folders appearing on devices you can start to work on your files on one computer and then pick up that work on another computer.  If that’s not good enough or you didn’t put a file into a ‘meshed’ folder then you can remote desktop (with addition of some NAT traversal goodness) to a device to place a file into a ‘meshed’ folder.

This is all very well if you computer is not in power-save, the file is not exclusively locked syncing is up to date, and the internet connection is available for syncing,

Got the idea?  No? Check out mesh.com for an introduction at this time.

Read on to more posts in this series

UMPC and Tablet PC mobile goodness at WinHEC

For some reason, whenever Microsoft launches a new wave of non-PC form factors, it’s websites do a terrible job of pointing to the available hardware and how to buy one.  The sites are seldom updated with the latest hardware as it’s released.

Take for example Pocket PC Phone devices.  Go to Microsoft browsing site.  If you live in the US, you are immediately limited, largely because you are presented with what the carriers carry.  I buy most of mine through Expansys which can get me pretty much any device from Europe (where there’s always more choice) and yet the Microsoft sites seem to dutifully segment customers in a way that effectively limits choice to the uninformed.  HTC isn’t listed as a brand, and yet not only are they the original manufacturer for a huge proportion of carrier-badged Windows Mobile device, but they do sell their own brand – browse for HTC at Expansys and pick the appropriate country.

Back to the UMPC.  Take a look at the Microsoft UMPC site – click on the Hardware link at the bottom of the left-hand list.  You get to see just two devices and they are from the earlier round!

So here are some of the new devices that Bill Gates showed during the WinHEC keynote – see around 11:40 (video) and 13:00 (on stage) into his keynote video)

  • Fujitsu FMV-U8240
  • HTC Shift
  • Samsung Q1 Ultra (which is a horrible name since the previous one was just the Samsung Q1 and Ultra is the first world of UMPC so you’ll likely see the old model mixed into the results if you search for the new model)

These devices have varying availability.  On the surface, I’m inclined to look at the Shift because of the keyboard versatility and I’ve had plenty of HTC devices.  I also have a Fujitsu Tablet PC however, and that’s lasted quite nicely.  The Samsung Q1 was not cheap and I’m not sure about the split thumbing keypad – althrough it may actually be the most practical.  Having HSPDA built in, may also be a great plus.

You’ll probably want to consider things like:

  • Does it run Vista Aero?
  • Does it have built in 3/3.5G?
  • What Wifi spec does it have?
  • How long does the battery last?
  • How big is the screen and what resolution is it?

Bear in mind that none of these devices is likely to be that much cheaper than a regular notebook.

A number of new Tablet PCs were also shown on stage and in video.  I recall seeing the Gateway E-155c and E-295c.  There was also an official-sounding video from Dell posted yesterday to confirm rumours that they will have a Tablet PC coming later this year (but no specs). 

In a new Tablet PC I’m looking for these things (in no particular order):

  • Windows Vista with Aero
  • Convertible
  • Windows SideShow (which may be difficult wiring-wise with the convertible hinge)Widescreen
  • LED-backlit
  • Windows ReadyDrive-capable HDD
  • 6+ hours of battery life with standby swap capability
  • Pen and touch interface

I’m beginning to wonder if a UMPC would do it for me at home, rather than a full-blown tablet.

Tablet PC needs to push into the mainstream such that all notebooks at least have the pen and touch digitizers (and the stylus) – this isn’t as easy as it sounds though.

UMPC seems to be stepping up with specs, but battery life and price is still not there on the 2nd generation.  I think they do make a great round-the-house ad-hoc computer with the full power of Windows.