The death of Live Services – what to expect?

By now the Windows Live oriented people have probably heard the news: the Live Services infrastructure, including Live Framework, is shutting down on next Tuesday. Live Mesh will stay online, but the developer CTP version will be discontinued – until it is merged with the Windows Live offering.

A short history

Announced in PDC 2008, Live Framework held a lot of promise. It built on Ray Ozzie’s vision of Live Mesh being the channel between everything digital in your life. It would automatically synchronize data, contacts and applications between all your devices, providing you with a unified experience, be it on your PC, Mac, mobile or car stereo (among others).

After the PDC launch, the two-day Live Services Jumpstart event toured the world (I attended the Berlin session in November 2008), spreading the news of the new possibilities, including Mesh-based applications, web sites with Live integration and whatnot. In March 2009, I gave a talk on Live Services in TechDays Finland 2009 (video, in Finnish), and almost nobody had heard of the technology.

A few CTP updates came around during the last year, but all in all, it was pretty quiet. Now then comes David Treadwell, stating that much of Live Services is going away. The official word is that this is to better align the offering with the next wave of Windows Live. When? No idea…

What was Live Services anyway?

The brand was never easy to understand. It was an umbrella offering with ASP.NET and JavaScript controls for using Messenger, it was a data storage architecture for Live Mesh, it was an application packaging methodology for Mesh deployments… And at some point, even Live Maps (now Bing Maps, of course) were tacked with the same label. Another classic case of Microsoft’s confusing branding, there!

I think the concept behind Live Services was (and is) solid. The concept of “a digital lifestyle”, requiring synchronization of all your assets, is coming onto us, and withdrawal of the platform has nothing to do with lack of need. However, what Live Services lacked was clarity of purpose.

Mesh applications, a great concept in itself, were hard to develop. Doing JavaScript apps was cumbersome despite the API Kit provided. Silverlight worked, but it works outside the Mesh box too – deploying Silverlight through “bare web” is relatively easy, and the offline support in Silverlight 3 eats away yet another key benefit of the Mesh App platform. While sync between devices is still unique to Live Mesh, developers don’t need it often. That might change with Silverlight Mobile, but we’ll see.

While web applications could certainly leverage the Live platform with all its social graph data etc., most apps can still live without it. Synchronizing data between apps is a great concept but lacks momentum – the world needs more poster child projects that convince the developers to actually use the technology. Gathering users for the platform was never easy, particularly since participation required hard-to-get CTP tokens.

Live Framework as a developer platform was never ready. Although based on a good idea and quite a decent implementation, it was too slow and too clumsy for many purposes. Also, its storage model required far more studying and design than what people are used to with relational databases. And to top it off, it was disturbingly similar to the Azure Table Storage data model, yet sufficiently different to require another bout of learning.

Guessing the future

Microsoft isn’t likely to abandon its vision behind Live Services. Ozzie’s strong sponsorship of the Mesh family will keep at least the Mesh applications concept alive. But to succeed, they do need to position the technology more compellingly – and keep explaining it until people actually understand.

While “the next wave of Windows Live” definitely is the right home for the now-adrift Live Services, the technologically appropriate branding change comes with a risk: Windows Live is a murky pool of miscellaneous applications thrown out of the core OS and carries no positive connotation within the developer community. Throwing Live Services in is a gamble. It may profile the whole Windows Live stack as a viable programming platform – or it may bury the Mesh vision in the same pile with Movie Maker, Outlook Express and whatnot.

At any rate, it looks like this withdrawal might be setting the stage for the next PDC in November. The announced conference program has so far been pretty mute on really good new stuff, and the grandly branded “Azure Services Platform” has so far been little more than the Windows Azure foundation and some data services. The higher level of services received almost no attention last year, and the fundamentals seem ready now. Perhaps this PDC is the time to broaden the Azure story.

September 4, 2009 · Jouni Heikniemi · 7 Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Cloud

7 Responses

  1. Arttu - September 4, 2009

    Wow, this came out of the blue. At least it is good to know that Live Mesh continues – it is a simple killer app for power users. Have you heard of any plans of the Live Mesh going gold, or are they adopting the Google-style infinite betas.

    Perhaps all the stakes are now placed on the Azure brand, and evend the consumer services will emerge there. Hard to say because the moves of MS are so swift – but it is a positive sign that something happens all the time. for example the quick revelation of Azure SQL Services.

    BTW, do not bury Movie Maker and Outlook Express in the same pile – the first one was a compact tool with great features, and the latter a complete disaster, at least security-wise :)

  2. Angus Logan - September 4, 2009

    Lets not over react here – death of Live Services. Firstly, you should be a journalist with sensationalist headlines like that. Secondly, Live Services aren’t dead. full stop. There are a lot of people around the world working on Live Services. What happened (as I outlined here that we reached a tipping point in: reacting to customer feedback if we kept it open we would be misleading developers. The Live Framework CTP did its job. We got the feedback we needed to keep on building a killer service for developers to delight consumers. I don’t think we have changed our vision that we will provide great technology but more importantly a great audience for web sites and applications to tap into.

    Also, I agree with Arttu – the Windows Live Essentials are a set of killer applications which are used by millions of consumers.

    Nice post.

  3. Jouni Heikniemi - September 7, 2009

    Arttu: No idea on Live Mesh schedule, but given the talk about the next wave of Windows Live, I would expect Mesh to land there. I would be disappointed if PDC didn't enlighten us on this one.

    Angus: Well, I used to be a journalist! I agree the headline is rather aggressive, but purely from a developer standpoint: The key tools necessary for developing and innovating in this segment were removed rather bluntly.

    You quite probably made exactly the right move by pulling the CTP at this point, but given the fact that we have no idea on when the service will be back, and given that it's a cloud service which further increases developer attachment to you… Well, such a sudden removal can be fairly attributed as "death" as long as no further details are exposed.

    I have nothing against Windows Live Essentials, but so far they have not gathered developer mindshare. _That_ is my worry; the Live suite itself has been improving quite nicely lately.

  4. Heikniemi Hardcoded » Live Framework’s next steps are fuzzy, at best - November 20, 2009

    […] platform stack. In the 2009 slides, it has disappeared – and no surprise there, given that the Live Framework SDK CTP was shut down in late summer. At the time it was still alive, the Live Framework story essentially was a superset […]

  5. Heikniemi Hardcoded » Live Mesh dying soon – some saved by Live Sync, some not - June 14, 2010

    […] there’s none of that. In August 2008, the Live Framework developer tools were cut. In PDC 2009, the promises were already watered down to file sharing. In this announcement, remote […]

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