Microsoft’s Syncing Cloud Starting to Clear

Well, there’s only a week left before I set off to the Puget Sound region and my job. Hopefully this will be my last inter-city move for at least a few years. I’m tired of having to keep my daily possessions limited to a volume the size of a car, seeing as I’ve been relocating every four months for the past five years. This might also be a good opportunity to write something Microsoft-related. As always, these are my own thoughts and opinions, and I don’t profess to have any insider information on any of the topics discussed. Okay, without further ado, some musings on Windows (Phone) 7.

Synchronization Made Clear(er)

The Worldwide Partner Conference is well underway, with some keynotes by Microsoft executives. The cloud has been a cornerstone of all the keynotes thus far, and while it may initially appear to be all business-y, comments yesterday by Brad Brooks and Andy Lees shows how consumers will start benefiting immediately. It is all centered upon the Three-Screens-and-the-Cloud mantra. As people begin to own multiple connected devices, data synchronization has become a priority issue. Although in the past Live Mesh, Live Sync, FolderShare, SkyDrive, and others made for a jumbled mess in the space, it appears these ‘experiments’ are paying off in the form of the architecture that is being settled upon for the consumer space: Live Sync + SkyDrive.

All the details aren’t quite available yet, but what has been shown thus far seems to indicate that no matter what platform you’re using, Windows 7 or Windows Phone 7 or Windows Live, SkyDrive will be the place to store all your data. Live Sync provides the syncing technology for Windows on a PC, and a slightly revamped version of MyPhone and specialized version of Live Sync, which will be named Windows Phone Live, syncs smartphone data to SkyDrive. SkyDrive is either already the storage location for the web-based Live apps (Office Live, Live Mail, etc.) or provided as a network-mapped drive for the rich clients, such as the Live Essentials suite. Microsoft is providing 25GB on SkyDrive, which is generous. I doubt the intention is to allow you to store your entire media library on the cloud, but sharing 12MP photos and home videos in private, especially in HD formats will now be easier. I’m excited there’s now a clearly defined way for me to synchronize data between my laptop and desktop (and perhaps my work laptop as well!).

Syncing Smartphone Data

Perhaps more interesting is the benefit for Windows Phone 7. AnandTech’s recently published article on the Kin euthanasia touched upon one of the well-received components of the product, Kin Studio. As sad as the Kin story is, perhaps something can be salvaged – the excellent sync philosophy that underlies Kin Studio. The author, Brian Klug, loved the automatic and near real-time synchronization of photos, messages, contacts, and more. Many of these features are already available with Microsoft MyPhone, but it’s nowhere near real-time. What was shown yesterday at WPC with Windows Phone 7, however, changes that. One of the features touted was: after a photo is taken, a web-quality version is automatically synced with SkyDrive, ready to be shared. In order to conserve some data, the full quality version and any media downloaded, say from Zune, is synced over Wifi once the device is plopped into its charging cradle. Now, I doubt the interface for Windows Phone Live will be anything like Kin Studio and its interesting timeline – Windows Phone 7 simply doesn’t have the same social intention Kin does. However, I imagine many of the core syncing scenarios have been ported over, and that’s the important part. No more is the phone tied to a computer. After all, why should it be?

I’m also super excited that synchronization doesn’t just stop at photos, documents and other files. With multiple social services like Facebook, MySpace, Live, and my work Exchange account, contacts are all over the place, often duplicated and many times incomplete. Windows Live will now start aggregating and merging contacts from multiple providers. This functionality was also shown during the Windows Phone 7 demonstrations at WPC. While Android smartphones and HTC Sense interface devices have been able to integrate with services like Facebook, there isn’t enough control over the resulting list of merged contacts. Furthermore, these merged listings are never stored in a permanent location, meaning a data wipe also wipes out those links. I’m hopeful now that Windows Live is hosting all this data, it will be persistent and available for easy manipulation.

The Data Availability Vision

Okay, lots of words, but what does it mean for us, the end users? You get the data that is important to you on all your devices, all the time, anywhere you go. Microsoft’s bringing together its often-confusing mish-mash of synchronization and web storage services in a much clearer way, enabling data and settings synchronization between multiple Windows PCs, Windows Phone 7 devices, Xbox, and the cloud (SkyDrive).

In the past, the enigmatic positioning of seemingly similar products indicated Microsoft itself didn’t quite know what it wanted to accomplish in the synchronization space. However, recent disclosures about the technologies that will underly the Personal Cloud, as Microsoft calls it, are solidifying the landscape. Past experiences have been drawn upon. Microsoft’s vision for your personal mesh of devices is finally becoming clear, and the scenarios are enticing.

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