Boy, what a mesh.
Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, dropped in to keynote the company’s MIX 08 conference March 5 in Las Vegas and left many in the crowd a bit perplexed by the message he delivered.
Some said they felt that he said absolutely nothing new; others said they took insight from hidden meaning in Ozzie’s words and phrasing. And word has it that Ozzie had folks from his inner circle on hand to “translate” what he was saying. I didn’t get the luxury of a translator. What I took away was the concept of a mesh.
Ozzie said developers and designers need “to think of the Web as a hub; the hub of our social experiences, our social mesh, the hub of our technology experiences, our device mesh. Related to the social mesh, we believe that the interpersonal nature of the Web will ultimately impact everything we do, including the personal aspect of the PC, in scenarios ranging from productivity to media and entertainment; all applications-ours and yours-and will incorporate the group-forming aspect of the Web. Linking, sharing, ranking, tagging on the Web will become as familiar to all of us as file, edit, and view on the PC.”
Meanwhile, “related to the device mesh, this first principle also recognizes that we’re living in a world where the number [of] and diversity of devices is on the rise,” from phones and PCs to smart TVs, DVRs, media centers, game consoles, digital picture frames, pocket media players, digital cameras, camcorders and more, he said.
Having so many of these new devices Internet-aware “gives us the unique opportunity to use the magic of software to bring them all together into your own personal device mesh with the Web as a hub,” Ozzie said. “Just imagine, if you will, that unified device management will enable your devices to report into a common service for status, for help, to report their location.”
Indeed, just imagine.
“Just imagine the possibilities of unified application management across the device mesh, centralized, Web-based deployment of device-based applications,” he said. “Imagine an app platform that’s cognizant of all of your devices. Now, as it so happens, we’ve had a team at Microsoft working on this specific scenario for some time now, starting with the PC and focused on the question of how we might make life so much easier for individuals if we just brought together all your PCs into a seamless mesh, for users, for developers, using the Web as a hub.”
He then said people will soon have the opportunity to try an early technology preview of a new software and service that would enable some of these capabilities.
But I’m still back at the mesh.
There will likely be an assortment of meshes
The mesh as I see it (and as backed up by some of my smarter friends) is basically the notion that there exists a vast group of devices that are somehow connected, sharing information and applications. The information is stored in many places, synchronized and shared through the network. Processing occurs both locally and remotely or “in the cloud.” The information can pass from device to device without passing back through the hub, or Web. And this is why it’s called a mesh and not the standard hub-and-spoke system that most computing, including software-as-a-service, is built on today, said a friend of mine.
Moreover, in a true mesh, data is just data, and processing occurs where it needs to occur, be it remotely, locally or both.
And while Ozzie speaks broadly of a device mesh in a Microsoft-sponsored world, there will likely be an assortment of meshes, both proprietary and “open,” if you will.
As an example: The protocol from a user’s iPhone to his PC is through iTunes-a proprietary protocol. And the applications are written to a proprietary API set and iTunes itself is a proprietary network. But the device can still send data that an application on the user’s Windows Mobile device can work with, which will come through their Exchange/ActiveSync connection. As long as there are gateways, it doesn’t matter. That is the device mesh at work.
And while it is still very early days for this concept and pioneers are taking the lead, it is likely that a lot of fuss will be made over the proprietary nature of this or that network or device. As long as the protocols and file formats can be converted, that is about as relevant as what weight paper you type your resume on.
Jeremy Burton, CEO of Serena Software, said the platform shift to SOAs (service-oriented architectures) and Web services “allows you to have a standard way to interoperate and also it allows the location of an application (or services) to be irrelevant-on-premise, in the cloud, who cares? I think Microsoft realizes that for it to own the new world, it has to be in control of the standards that link [or mesh] this new world together. If these standards are all open, and everyone can write to them, then that would be bad for Microsoft. … They potentially could be marginalized and their services swapped out for something else.”
Ozzie: Imagine the possibilities..
I’m not so sure about that. I’m betting Microsoft’s strategy takes into account that there will be a mixture of meshes.
Meanwhile, Peter Coffee, director of platform research at Salesforce.com, breaks the notion of a mesh down even further.
“From what I’ve seen so far, the agenda behind the ‘mesh’ seems to boil down to ‘standards-based maximization of complexity,'” Coffee said. “‘Mesh’ appears to be, as of now, a one-syllable word for a scavenger hunt across all the devices you own or share, looking for the piece of state-the particular item of data, or the logic that implements a particular function-that you need at any given moment.”
Moreover, said Coffee: “A ‘mesh’ appears to imply a whole bunch of code that strives to minimize the labor involved in tracking down what the user wants. This encourages the user to continue storing data and logic on the desktop, the laptop, the smart phone, and the enterprise network server. To the extent that any technology provider can take the lead in making this look [relatively] easy, that provider can hold the role of first among equals.”
To hone in even more closely, Coffee, without ever mentioning Microsoft, added: “A tech provider with massive resources remains more relevant in a world that’s built around a massive problem.”
Ozzie also exhorted the MIX audience to “just imagine the possibilities enabled by centralized configuration and personalization and remote control of all your devices from just about anywhere. Just imagine the convenience of unified data management, the transparent synchronization of files, folders, documents, and media. The bi-directional synchronization of arbitrary feeds of all kinds across your devices and the Web, a kind of universal file synch.”
One effort Microsoft has going in that direction is its Microsoft Sync Framework. At MIX, Neil Padgett, program manager for the Sync Framework, gave an update of the technology.
Padgett said the Microsoft Sync Framework is currently on Community Technology Preview 2 and is expected to ship in the third quarter of 2008.
Liam Cavanagh, a program manager for the Microsoft Sync Framework, said that “it doesn’t matter what the data store is.” But the Sync Framework is “a set of APIs that you can embed that take away all the complexities of synchronization.”
Cavanagh said Microsoft has a protocol built into the Sync Framework known as FeedSync, an extension to RSS and ATOM. FeedSync, which was designed by Ozzie, enables such scenarios as collaboration over the Web using synchronized feeds, roaming data to multiple client devices, and publishing reference data and updates in an open format that can be synchronized easily, Padgett said.
The Microsoft Sync Framework and FeedSync are critical to Microsoft’s software plus services strategy as well as to its overall “mesh” strategy.