Why Live Mesh will fail

When I first heard about Live Mesh, I was underwhelmed. I kept hearing that this was a game-changer, but I really didn’t see why. Today, I decided to figure out what the fuss was about, so I went to TechMeme to track down some of the better resources to start from. I read Ray Ozzie’s memo, I read the LiveMesh blog, and about a dozen other articles. I’m still having a hard time seeing this as revolutionary. Other services exist which have most of the same pieces. Where Mesh is different is the possible reach that Microsoft could give it. It is that reach that which is required to make it successful where others have failed. However, that reach coming from Microsoft is the Achilles heel for the technology. The Forbes article covers this aspect:

In the past, Microsoft has “literally tried to own the platform and standard, and so forced the industry to adopt [its technologies],” says Alex Barnett, vice president of community at Web application-development platform host Bungee Labs. “Ray Ozzie’s been working with community in a non-commercial, open-standards way to solve this problem at the industry level.”

It will take weeks–maybe months–for developers to grasp all that Mesh is capable of, predicts Barnett. And for it to be successful, Microsoft has to continue to engage with the community. If the program morphs into a Microsoft standard–instead of a Web standard–support will fall away, he adds.

Mesh may have been developed in a clean room environment, safe from the Microsoft innovation anti-bodies, but now that it is in the open, those anti-bodies will be attacking this from every direction. How excited will the Windows Mobile team be when you can sync your iPhone from LiveMesh. What will the Windows team think about the Linux client? They will all come at this team and Ray Ozzie may not be able to protect the Mesh group from the revenue engines. Every group at Microsoft will want to make sure that their user’s experience with Mesh is better than their competitors at which point the users and 3rd party developers will run away in droves.

Mesh is a service. A Microsoft service. How eager will developers be to put their eggs in Microsoft’s basket? Microsoft has a long history on screwing over developers with its technologies. Through aggressive marketing (ie: paying developers off a la Silverlight) and active hand-holding, Microsoft may get some bigger fish to swim in their pond. The little fish will be scared for the day that MS decides to eat them and they’ll be harder to get on-board.

For Microsoft to be successful with Mesh, they’ll need to get the independent web developers in their camp. This group is one of the least supportive of Microsoft. Microsoft has never made inroads with web developers outside of corporate IT departments. I’m sure that there are some great web start-ups based on Microsoft technologies, but I’m having a hard time thinking of one.

Live Mesh’s success requires Microsoft to be really good at a lot of things it has always been bad at: open standards, engaging the larger community, giving up control, having user trust, and enriching competitive platforms.

I believe that Ray Ozzie and the Mesh team may really want to do the right things for the right reason. The question will be if they can get escape velocity from a corporate culture which is against all those things. It will be a good test for us on the outside for judging Microsoft in the future. In the post-Bill era, is Microsoft Ray Ozzie’s company or is it Steve Ballmer’s company?

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