Saturday, August 28, 2010
Posted by Jason Dunn in "Digital Home Talk" @ 12:00 PM
From the very first day I discovered FolderShare, created by Byte Taxi and later purchased by Microsoft and re-named Live Sync, it's been a transformational technology for me - literally changing the way I'm able to work on multiple devices. Over the years, Live Sync has been ignored, improved, then ignored again - a clear sign that the leadership at Microsoft didn't know what to do with it. And the obvious overlap with Live Mesh didn't help its cause. Things seemed to be getting better about a year ago when Live Sync really started to get some effort put into it, but took a drastic turn for the worse when the Live Sync beta came out in June.
FolderShare was truly dead; the lightweight, super-fast client was replaced by the heavy and slow Live Mesh client. Worse, the performance issues - specifically, the hard drive access load - virtually lock up several of my computers when a sync is happening (and were talking about a Core i7 system with 6 GB of RAM in one instance). It wasn't all bad news though - the 20,000 file library limit was raised to 100,000, so I was finally able to re-unite my photo collection. All in all though, I've been very disappointed in the performance of the new Live Sync client.
Some more good news/bad news: the Live Sync team is aware of some of the performance issues. In this blog post, team member Allison O'Mahony states that an forthcoming update:
"We've made several performance updates to Windows Live Mesh in response to your requests that will provide noticeable improvements to your experience. We worked on cutting the application load time in half and made syncing large numbers of folders and adding multiple devices to a sync folder faster. We've optimized both memory and CPU usage during sync activity as well as decreased CPU consumption by as much as 30% when Windows Live Mesh is idle."
The improvements can't come fast enough, though I see nothing in there about throttling the disk activity - and I'm convinced that's the biggest problem with Live Sync right now. It's not uncommon for me to open up the Resource Monitor and see Live Sync using upwards of 50 MB/s of hard drive data transfer; and when your hard drive is working that hard, your system is going to be quite unresponsive.
I'm also seeing Windows Defender fail to start about 30% of the time after a reboot on my systems that have Live Sync installed - it always starts if I manually click "Start Now" after I'm alerted to the "danger" my system is in - though sometimes it will magically fix itself after a couple of minutes. It happens on everything from my HP dv2 to my media editing Core i7 system. I'm convinced it's related to disk load; the disc load is so heavy after a reboot when Live Sync is slugging away at the hard drive I think it's interfering with Windows Defender starting as a service. This started across all my systems the same day I installed the Live Sync beta on them.
Some more bad news: they're dropping the name Live Sync and going with Live Mesh. This is a mistake. The term "sync", while not part of the daily lexicon in the lives of most people, at least has some traction - people got the basic idea that "sync = synchronize = make the same". Mesh? Mesh means nothing to the average person. The product name now has nothing to do with what it does, which will further confuse end users. Live Sync was a great product name that shouldn't have been changed.
I also have to shake my head slightly at the analysis of the stats on cloud storage; because Live Sync users were only given 2 GB, what did they expect we'd use it for? That's not much space. None of the folders I'm synching is under 2 GB, so the cloud storage functionality is useless to me. They'll be increasing it to 5 GB, which will allow me to sync one of my folders to it - so now it will be useful to me.
There are some further improvements: hidden files will now sync (rejoice Picasa users!), and there will be a list of files that are in need of being synced (missing). This is a much-needed improvement, though I won't be happy until I can see a real-time list of what's being synched, and at what speed - Live Sync, err, Live Mesh hides too much information from me as a user.
So there you have it. I'm glad that Microsoft is continuing to invest in Live Mesh, because at this point, the performance is so poor I'm actively telling people to avoid using it (I'm suggesting Dropbox instead). I really hope this is one of those instances where things have gotten worse before they get better, because I really like the idea of this product and want to see it succeed.