Microsoft goes Live with new Web-based offerings

Think of it as your own personal Web site, containing customized Web and search services that allow you to retain your preferences and log on to an always fresh and up-to-date page.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. is calling it Windows Live, an Internet-based software service that the company claims exemplifies the seamless integration of software, hardware and services for a satisfying user experience.

That’s how Bill Gates positioned the offering.

Windows Live is the culmination of all the elements of one’s “digital work styles and life styles”, said the Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, who led an internal corporate presentation yesterday about the company’s current and future software roadmap.

Microsoft announced the availability of the beta version of, which serves as the starting point for Windows Live services using RSS and Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX). allows the user to customize the page to suit his or her personal preferences providing “quick access to people and information they care about most.”

The Windows Live offering also includes: Windows Live Mail, which is an upgrade from the MSN Hotmail global Web e-mail service; Windows Live Messenger, an instant messaging service with file and photo sharing and PC-based calling features; Windows Live Safety Centre, a Web site for on-demand virus scanning and removal service; Windows OneCare Live, a PC health subscription for protection against viruses and other security threats, including data backup and restore capability; and Windows Live Favorites, an Internet-based service that allows users to access their favorite sites from any online PC.

Users can try out the beta versions of some of the Windows Live services at and are encouraged to provide feedback to Microsoft.

Microsoft’s new Live platform is the company’s first major foray into Web services, according to Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research.

He said when Google unveiled its strategy for delivering sophisticated Web-based applications, all eyes turned to Microsoft, as the market wondered when Microsoft would start to take advantage of this new opportunity.

“This is Microsoft’s first stab at that platform and it’s a fairly decisive one,” he said.

Owen Sagness, vice-president for Toronto-based MSN Canada said the MSN brand would continue to provide programmed content experience for users, while Windows Live would offer users customized content and communications services.

MSN Canada’s partnership with Bell Sympatico will be expanded to involve the Windows Live service, he said.

“We have a very deep relationship with Bell Sympatico. As we introduce the Windows Live in the Canadian marketplace we have to think about how we would work with Bell to provide the best user experience for our joint customers,” he said, adding that MSN Canada and Bell would be launching a Canadian version of the service.

Gates also announced it will be launching Microsoft Office Live, a set of Internet-based tools for small businesses.

Office Live helps companies establish online presence, automate key internal and external business tasks, and collaborate with employees, partners and customers, according to Microsoft. The service can be used independently or integrated with regular MS Office applications such as Outlook, Excel, Office Live Meeting and MS Office Small Business Edition.

Office Live Basics, one of the offerings under the Office Live portfolio, would be a tool for small businesses to establish an Internet presence, which includes a domain name, a Web site with 30 MB of storage capacity and five Web e-mail accounts. This is offered at no charge to businesses and will be supported largely through advertising.

Subscription-based services would also be offered, involving over 20 business applications that help automate daily business functions such as project management, sales and collateral management, customer management, expense reports, time and billing management, and secure internal and external collaboration, Microsoft said.

“We are embarking on the richest series of product releases in our company’s 30-year history,” said Gates. “Beyond the opportunities this presents for our customers and partners, these new live offerings represent an incredibly powerful way of enabling customers to more quickly access and benefit from the innovations being developed by our product teams.”

Office Live services will initially be released as an invitation-only beta in the US next year. Small business customers can sign up at

Gates said most of the Live services would be offered to customers for free and would be largely supported through advertising models.

This new generation of Microsoft’s Internet-based software offerings is a move towards the “live” era, where the Internet will play a significant role in breaking down barriers across, software, services and devices, according to Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie.

As these new Live offerings go into the beta stage, Ozzie said it is important for beta users to provide feedback to Microsoft so the company can create the Live software and services based on what the market demands. “We are transforming software through customer intelligence.”

He said Microsoft would capitalize on the viability of Internet advertising to support most of the Live offerings, adding that online advertising – currently a $15-billion industry – has continuously grown through the years.

“Microsoft now has 10 per cent share of online advertising and we have barely scratched the surface,” said Ozzie.

Ozzie announced Microsoft’s plan to create an advertising network through the MSN adCentre, where advertisers would have access to tools that offer them the ability and intelligence to create more “meaningful connections with customers.”

By bringing in customer and advertiser feedback into the equation and using that to develop and update software and services, Microsoft could be defining its future model for delivering Web-based services and applications, said Info-Tech’s Levy.

“Rather than taking a big bang approach – where they just set a date, develop up to that date and release it all in one shot – they are releasing a number of services and asking for customer and advertiser feedback on them. (Microsoft) would use that feedback to update, adopt…and do whatever it takes to deliver to that particular market.”

He said that’s the way it should be done in the Web-services world.

The concept of “live” Web-services is not a “radically” new offering, said Levy, but is actually an extension and a richer version of what is already in the market.

“But Microsoft [has] put them all under the Live banner because it gives them a common development target – [letting] their developers focus on the same thing.”

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