When I last wrote about Microsoft's Feedsync I said that I couldn't see a purpose for it in a networked world. I'd wanted to elaborate on that for a while, especially after seeing this post from Liveside.net which advises everyone to "Pay Attention to Feedsync", but just didn't have the time.
Well, it took me the better part of two months but I finally got around to it. Here's the (very old) quote from Liveside...
However, all of this discussion seems to boil down into a set of main themes: a) we are moving toward more cloud based computing, b) that may be a threat to Microsoft, and c) for the first time in a long time Microsoft may be facing some real competition. So the big question is, what is Microsoft's response? Is Microsoft an old-school software company, waiting to be disrupted and toppled? Or do they have some tricks left up their sleeve?
The answer, or at least a big part of the answer, lies in FeedSync. First announced in 2005 by Ray Ozzie (then called SSE), this set of RSS enhancements is going to be a backbone of one of the key concepts of Software + Services. Microsoft is betting heavily that the desktop, and rich desktop applications, are not going away, but that the ability to synchronize content from the desktop to the cloud, and from desktop to laptop to phone, all from the cloud (or from other devices), offers advantages that pure cloud computing just can't.
For me, the question is whether Microsoft is looking forward or backwards with this. I'll be the first to admit we may not be into the "networked world" I alluded to in my earlier feedsync post but we're getting closer by the second. I can now get net access just about anywhere (either via WiFi or using my cell phone as a tethered modem). Even Airplanes are beginning to offer it.
In that context Feedsync seems very circa-2000 to me. While Google is betting on a future where everyone just pulls one copy of a document off the server Microsoft seems to be betting people will want 12 different copies of their document spread all over the place.
(in fairness, Microsoft is clearly hedging their bets, see Office Live Workspaces)
Don't get me wrong, there are places where this might be good.
One place is in Calendar applications which synchronize because they need constant access to their data. Missing a reminder because the phone couldn't poll its server is obviously unacceptable. But for almost every other application the user initiates the interaction and is aware of his/her connection status which means they can remedy a lack of connection.
Things could still go Microsoft's way but I'm leaning against Feedsync at this point (albeit less so than before). It still feels like Microsoft isn't solving the problem. All those copies floating out there are essentially the same thing as sending a document via e-mail and having people cc everyone with their edits. Microsoft has created a more efficient way to sync those documents but there are still multiple copies out there and that means there's still a problem.