What we can learn from Windows Live

Back in 2005, I had my first visit to Microsoft Corp.’s headquarters campus in Redmond, Wash., just outside of Seattle, with a group of journalists from around the world. We took in a Seattle Mariners game; the Asian journos went batty every time Ichiro Suzuki took to the plate, while I tried to explain to a group of Brits the rules of the game, which are surprisingly complicated when you try to spell them out.
Back at the campus, Microsoft reps were making what was intended to be one of its biggest branding initiatives ever: Windows Live. The platform (was it a platform?) boasted e-mail, Windows Live search, a mapping service, messaging, blogging platform and much, much more. One thing it didn’t boast was clarity. The assembled journalists couldn’t figure out what exactly Windows Live was (was it a platform?). Like baseball, it was surprisingly complicated when you tried to spell it out.
I reminisce for two reasons: I just bought a Windows Phone 7-based HTC Radar smart phone, which is thoroughly integrated with Live; and because Microsoft killed the Live brand the day after I bought it.
To be honest, it won’t affect Windows Phone users. While the service is built around your Microsoft e-mail account, like most others, I stuck with Hotmail rather than Live addresses. Live was really, as a pundit from U.K. tech site The Register put it, “the meaningless umbrella (for) a bunch of online services.”
Despite the marketing effort, Live really never gained traction. With the rebranding of Live Search as Bing in 2009, Live receded into the background. Microsoft had never managed to articulate what Live was meant to be, which was what Google is now: The portal to your online life, with apps, e-mail, search, social and more, all in one place.
This snapped into focus when I was selling the merits of Windows Phone to our IT manager, particularly its integration with Hotmail and the coming Windows 8 operating system. “That’s great,” Mat said, “but my life is in Google.”
That’s a powerful statement.
It’s also a powerful strategy, and one that the IT department can emulate. When considering the architecture of your systems, remember that you want the user’s work life to be in your infrastructure. Building the experience around e-mail is a good start; do the end-user applications integrate with e-mail? Do they share a relationship with the user’s (and the enterprise’s) data? Can the user customize the end point experience to accommodate the way he or she works? Can you create compelling custom mobile apps that keep the user in the system rather than drifting off into the Googleverse?
(This last point, by the way, is also a powerful tool to retain at least some control in the face of the BYOD movement, notes veteran IT pro and analyst Bruce Stewart on our Blogosphere site at blogidol.ca. “Create some attractors: small, quick, cheap apps that provide useful services, but are only available for the platforms you want to support,” he writes. “Not platform — platforms. There has to be some choice left open. Simple apps that make office life easier are a good beginning. Room booking on the fly, for instance. You make these available for, let’s say, three platforms at most … Your apps, in turn, are the opening to the idea of even more app interfaces to your systems. Here’s where you can start to embed the security and integrity controls you need. Meanwhile, you’re producing things that are seen as valuable. That builds your reputation, and the battle shifts from control to, ‘Here’s some money, can you make me a …’ That’s a good place to be.”)

When your employees keep their work life in your systems, it’s suddenly easier to deal with issues like security, data loss prevention, data integrity, master data management … the list goes on and on. There’s a certain Zen to gaining control by letting it go.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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