Foley on Microsoft

Microsoft Live: A Six-Month Report Card

Mary Jo explains what the Live services are all about and how she rates their success so far.

Last November, Bill Gates unveiled Microsoft's latest sea change -- its Live strategy. Microsoft watchers have been struggling to make sense of it ever since.

Six months after kicking off the "Live" era of software, Microsoft has rolled out nearly two dozen entities under that banner. Sometimes it seems like Microsoft is using "Live" as a way to re-brand MSN. Other times, Live is "Microspeak" for Web 2.0.

Does "Live" mean hosted? Software as a service? All of the above? None of it? Is there any method to the Live madness? While Microsoft has done almost nothing to clarify Live matters, there actually is something there.

My Microsoft Live epiphany came in late March, after attending a session outlining the Windows Live developer strategy at Microsoft's Mix '06 conference (the event that was thoroughly overshadowed by yet another Windows Vista delay). The "aha!" moment happened when Microsoft detailed the development-platform story for Live.

Envision a typical Microsoft architectural diagram consisting of three layers here: At a core level, Microsoft is giving developers both inside and outside the company three sets of interfaces -- contacts, identity and storage. There is an optional layer of common services sitting atop those interfaces. The services include search, AdCenter, presence, mapping and mobile. On top of that, Microsoft is creating a growing family of Windows Live applications and "experiences."

My Microsoft Live epiphany came in late March, after attending a session outlining the Windows Live developer strategy at Microsoft’s Mix ’06 conference (the event that was thoroughly shadowed by yet another Windows Vista delay).

This is where everything from Windows Live Expo classifieds to Windows Live Messenger instant messaging fits in. Other non-Windows-specific services -- such as Xbox Live, Office Live, Visual Studio Live (code-named "Tuscany") and other future Microsoft Live services -- also plug in at this level. I walked out of that session, shaking my head and muttering, "Why couldn't someone have said this before now? Now I get it!"

If you dig into another hidden gem, the MSDN Windows Live Developer Center, you'll see the Live strategy even more clearly. Microsoft has crafted a policy and come up with a mechanism for licensing various Live properties, including Live.com gadgets, custom domains, search, MSN/Windows Live Spaces, Virtual Earth and Live Messenger. There are software development kits for each of these entities. Not that you'd know it if you relied on Microsoft's MSN folks to tell you. We unearthed this wealth of information by accident while poking around in the Live Developer Center and clicking on "business model."

So here is my six-month Live Report Card:

  • Ambition: A
    A new product or feature coming from Microsoft almost every day is unheard of. Live makes the Softies seem like the innovators they so desperately want to be.
  • Buzz: B/C
    Folks know Live matters and that its primary driver, Ray Ozzie, is the Chosen One. However, very few developers outside of Microsoft have jumped on the Live bandwagon so far.
  • Clarity: D
    Six months after launching Live, Microsoft still can't explain what it means or why it matters in a single, simple sentence.
  • Delivery: B/C
    As with arch rival Google, perpetual beta seems to be the modus operandi. Maybe never-ending betas mean never having to say you're sorry?

Now that we've had six months to digest it, how would you rate the Microsoft Live rollout? Do you think Live will change the way Microsoft developers build software or the way you buy it? If you were Ray Ozzie, what would you do next to build Live momentum inside and outside the company? Write to me at mjfoley@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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