Live Mesh – your ultimate home backup solution

Although we’re called Reactive Software, a company that provides reactive solutions (i.e. we clean up the mess after it has already happened to you by recovering the data) we always recommend our customers to take proactive steps to prevent coming to us in the first place by following three important steps:

  1. Backup your data
  2. Secure your data and your connections
  3. Use the password manager and remember only one complex password to all your other passwords (don’t do this if you suffer from amnesia! use paper in that case)

Today I would like to cover the first of the three most important proactive measures to make your life painless: Data Backup.

Note: this is a not a review of data backup products. We will write about one specific solution that we think would fit best any home user (an ideal solution for all devices in the whole house actually).

Live Mesh from the Windows Live team is a “cloud” system that sits on your PC (Mac & Windows Mobile coming soon) in the background and watches the folders that you want to be kept safe (backed up) for any changes. Once you change something (add new document, remove a file, change a document) Live Mesh will automatically synchronise the changes with the remote server. The data is stored on the remote server under your Live Desktop account (under your Windows Live account) so no one else can see your data. You can also add other computers (and folders from them) to your Live Desktop space. Soon, you will be able to add your Windows Mobile and Mac devices.

Live Desktop (Live Mesh) view

The beauty of this system is that it’s real fast and easy to set-up the automatic backup on all your machines. The backup is done to a remote server (=to another disk) via a secure connection (encrypted channel) so if any of your machines die together with the disks, the folders that you added to your Live Desktop will remain safe and accessible from your Live Desktop or from other machines where you have Live Mesh client installed.

All you need to do is:

  1. Download and install Live Mesh client on all machines from where you want to backup your data
  2. Right-click on each folder that you want to be backed up and select “Add folder to your Live Mesh…”
How to add folders to Live Mesh

That’s it! The rest will be performed by Live Mesh client upon doing any changes to your folders.

All of this comes for free. Similar backup solution would cost you hundreds of dollars because you would have to purchase not only a good piece of software but might also need a separate disk drive or a storage device to prevent data loss in the likely event of hardware death or accidental data deletion.

Apart from being able to backup your folders to a remote location, Live Mesh also allows you to gain remote access to any of your machines that are on-line from anywhere in the world (you simply sign into you Live Desktop with your Windows Live account). It also allows you to invite your family or friends into you Live Desktop to see and synchronise photos, documents and other data with their computers.

Limitations?
I didn’t notice anything significant that will stop this service being popular. 5 GB space is given.
Because of the 5 GB space limitation, we would recommend this as a backup solution for everything but photos and videos (it is fine for sharing selected photos or videos though).
Photos and videos take huge amount of space and therefore need a different backup solution. We will talk about this in a later blog post.

Now onto real-life examples:
I currently have two machines at home: I use a notebook (EUGENE-HOME in the screenshot above) and my wife uses a desktop (ELENA-HOME). We have a folder with all the family paperwork on the desktop computer (Documents folder). I manage my websites on the laptop (sites folder). I also chose to backup my Favorites and my Firefox Bookmarks (bookmarkbackups folder).

Live Mesh folders preview in Live Desktop

The folders are set to synchronise with the server only (fresh server copy of every file is available at any time). If one of the computers fails, I will synchronise the needed folder from the server to the working machine.

I have tested the system under Windows Vista and Windows XP both in Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers. Although still in Tech Preview mode the system is very stable (never crashed) and works fine on the tested platforms.
The sign-up to the service is free but is available only to some of the countries (US & UK are on the list) during the Tech Preview phase.

If you don’t have a Windows Live account, you can use your existing email address to sign-up for a Windows Live ID (it will be your email address).

Update, 3 Dec’08: The service is still in beta so use this software at your own risk. We have been testing Live Mesh for a while and the software is very stable. The only thing it can’t digest properly at this point is files that get updated extremely often (e.g. Thunderbird mail data files.

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