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  • Microsoft launches Windows Live

    http://blogs.pcworld.com/techlog/archives/001050.html

    It figures: Bill Gates and Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie unveil a new Web strategy at a hotel about a mile from PC World's offices...right when I happen to be 3,000 miles away on a road trip. So I'm catching up on the news tonight by reading about it online (here's my colleague Denny Arar's liveblogged report) and trying out Windows Live, the one bit of this new "Live" strategy that is live.

    Windows Live (which is in beta) is a Web portal with a "Sidebar" navigation system, tools for searching and reading RSS feeds, and "Gadgets" which can extend its functionality. It seems to be, basically, a repackaged version of Start.com, another experimental Microsoft portal that's been around for awhile. (Curiously, when I use Windows Live in Firefox, it's somewhat glitchy and issues an apologetic note about Firefox support being in the works, while Start.com works well on the very non-Microsoftian platform of Firefox running on a Mac OS X Powerbook. Is there some rule that you can't be branded as a Windows service unless you don't play completely nice with the rest of the world?)

    Windows Live as it stands this very moment is extremely unfinished-feeling (and reminiscent of Google's Personalized Homepage). Apparently, one of its more intriguing elements isn't yet up, but was demoed this morning--an IM/voice chat client that will provide the Skype-like ability to make calls to ordinary telephones.

    And by going to MicrosoftGadgets.com, you can get a glimpse of Windows Live's potential, since that site lets you add additional Gadgets to Windows Live. Rather than just being a repository for Microsoft-developed, Microsoft-centric tools, the site will apparently host home-grown stuff from third-party developers, a la Apple's Dashboard Widgets; already, there's a gadget that lets you view pictures from Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing service. (In a sign of just how half-baked Windows Live is at the moment, adding Gadgets is such a bizarrely convoluted cut-and-paste process that it comes with another apologetic note, and mention of slicker integration to come.)

    One thing that's unclear--at least to me, though it might have come up at this morning's briefing--is how Windows Live's Sidebar and Gadgets relate to the identically-named items that will be part of Windows Vista. Are they compatible with each other? Or simply two spins on the same basic idea?

    To me, the most interesting thing about Windows Live and the other services Microsoft discussed today (including the upcoming Office Live) isn't the services themselves but a slide Bill Gates showed (thanks, Niall Kennedy) that essentially outlines a world in which content and services live on the Web, are often subsidized by contextual advertising, and are deployed to an array of devices. True, the slide seems to indicate that about 75% of these devices will be "Microsoft-based," but not all of them. And the Microsoft devices shown go far beyond garden-variety Windows PCs.

    If we're truly headed for the scenario outlined in this slide--which is essentially the same one that Google seems to be pursuing--it's going to be a very, very different time from the still-largely-deskbound era we live in today. And, potentially, a very different one for Microsoft, a company whose immense profits are still predicated on getting millions of people to spend hundreds of dollars apiece on the decades-old pieces of client software known as Windows and Office.

    (Side note: One of the noteworthy things about today's announcements is that even Microsoft appears to think that things like Gadgets and Web services should live on the Web in at least some cases, not on the hard drive of a Windows PC. It's a tad surrealistic that Microsoft is going this route while the Sidebar in Google Desktop--no relation to Windows Live's Sidebar except in general intent and feel--is a piece of old-school Windows software that sits on the hard drive of one particular computer. Things are happening so rapidly in the world of widgets and gadgets and other little bits of Web-enabled software that Google's approach here seems even more archaic now than it did a little over two months ago when its Sidebar debuted.)

    Of course, the real sea change would happen if Microsoft announced ad-supported, Web-based services that truly competed with Windows and Office rather than attempting to complement them. (And just how Windows Live will complement Windows is still a little vague, at least to those of us who didn't hear Bill Gates explain it personally.)

    It didn't go that route today--no big surprise given that doing so would (here's a mixed metaphor) cannibalize its twin cash cows. But even if Microsoft doesn't introduce Web-based counterparts to Windows and Office, it's increasingly clear that multiple competitors will try to do so...and it'll be fasincating to see what happens.

    Thoughts or predictions, anyone?
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  • #2
    I've heard of this rather inaccurately described as an "online operating system" in a few places (if you want to see one of those in the works, check out http://www.eyeos.org). Considering it's actually just another portal (and just like in the search engine theater, Microsoft showing up late to Google's party), I don't see what all of the fuss is about.

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