If you need to synchronise files between multiple machines but don't fancy shelling out £58 per year for Apple's MobileMe, Microsoft has an alternative: Live Mesh. Currently in beta, the software gives you 5GB of online storage that you can use with multiple PCs, Macs and mobile phones.

First things first: Live Mesh is no MobileMe, for now at least. It doesn't do email. It doesn't sync contacts. It doesn't do anything with calendars. In its current version, all it offers is file synchronisation and remote operation of PCs – and the remote operation doesn't work on Macs.

Full Finder integration

To be fair, the file synchronisation is handled very well. Live Mesh integrates with the Finder, and when you choose to sync a folder with the service you get an additional Live Mesh panel when you open it. When the application is running, anything you put in the nominated folder(s) is automatically uploaded to Live Mesh; similarly, any Live Mesh folders you've chosen to synchronise with are automatically downloaded.

We tried to confuse it in a few ways – deleting our shared folder and force quitting the app mid-upload – but the software just picked up where it left off, re-downloading our shared folder in the first instance and starting the upload again in the second. We'd have preferred if the upload hadn't restarted from scratch – the file we killed was a 140MB video clip – but it's not a huge problem.

The software also enables you to share folders with specific people – all of whom need a Windows Live ID – and give them one of four roles: creator, owner, contributor or reader. The first role is automatically assigned to whoever creates a folder, while the remaining three options offer decreasing amounts of power. Owners can change or delete files and change other members' roles, contributors can change or delete files but can't change other peoples' permissions, and readers can only open and view files.

In addition to the desktop client, Live Mesh also offers a web-based interface that works fine in both Firefox and Safari. This gives you the same features as the desktop client and a Silverlight-powered Media View for image files, but for file or member management it's slower and clunkier than the Finder panel.

Mobile access

There's no iPhone app, although you can access files remotely from any web-enabled mobile at m.mesh.com. It's very basic, but it does enable you to view the contents of your folders and download them to your phone – provided the files are in supported formats. So in the case of an iPhone, that's yes for JPEGs and Microsoft Word .doc files, but no for RTF text documents.

So is it worth installing Live Mesh instead of MobileMe? If all you want is the ability to keep files synchronised across various PCs and Macs, then it's not a bad offering.

However, if you want to do more – such as synchronising contacts, calendars and bookmarks between Windows and OS X machines, or sharing photos in something more interesting than a desktop folder, MobileMe is still miles ahead. Live Mesh has the potential to be very interesting, but right now it's barely learnt to walk, let alone run.