By Daisuke Wakabayashi
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp has begun testing technology that brings together a person's pictures, documents and other data scattered across a growing number of machines with the goal of allowing people to access their information from anywhere and at any time.
Microsoft's "Live Mesh" program, which uses the Internet as a data hub, synchronizes files across computers, phones and other devices so a digital picture frame at home could show a picture minutes after it was taken by a cell phone.
Initially the program will be limited to 10,000 U.S. testers and computers running its Windows operating system, but Microsoft said it plans to extend Live Mesh over the next few months to mobile phones, computers from Apple Inc and other devices connected to the Internet.
The project is the brainchild of Ray Ozzie, who replaced Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as chief software architect, and underscores the company's carefully balanced online strategy, which aims to capitalize on the reach of the Internet without cannibalizing its cash cow software business.
Microsoft, the dominant force in software that runs on a computer's local hard drive, has seen rivals like Google Inc and Salesforce.com encroach on its turf with competitive offerings delivered over the Internet.
"As our industry has evolved because of this Web-catalyzed services transformation, so too has Microsoft," Ozzie wrote in a memo being sent to the company's employees on Wednesday.
Live Mesh embraces the industry trend toward "cloud computing" in which information is centrally stored on Web sites rather than on local devices, giving users easy access from any computer.
Industry analysts said the product may signal a watershed moment within Microsoft to embrace a technology that the company viewed as a threat in the past.
"We may be seeing signs of a Microsoft that is newly focused," said Jonathan Yarmis, a vice president and analyst at AMR Research. "This is exciting because it has as much to do with who is doing it as what Microsoft is doing."
The software will also let friends and colleagues collaborate and share documents more easily. For example, if a shared document is changed on a work computer, those changes will be instantly updated and available on any device or computer that the user has registered with Live Mesh.
Microsoft plans to release Live Mesh in a widely-available test, or "beta" version before the end of 2008.
(Editing by Louise Heavens)