Windows Live Search: Ready for Prime Time?

Microsoft's announcement on Monday that its long-awaited Windows Live Search service is officially out of beta test and ready for use signals its biggest move to date to challenge search giant Google for both consumers and businesses.

The company has been gradually ratcheting up its Live brand over the past year, starting initially with consumer and small business services, but over time honing in on larger business customers.

New Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie issued a classic company "vision" memo last November in which he described Microsoft's emerging Web services push as disruptive to the way the company had previously done business -- i.e., selling packaged software to run on users' PCs and servers. At that time, he and chairman Bill Gates embraced a new "software as a service"” (SaaS) model as the company's key income generator of the future.

Whether the company can actually deliver on that vision and also make money from it, however, remains to be seen. Much of that money, if it materializes, will come from a Google-like advertising model.

Though the incipient Live services have been oriented towards consumers and small businesses -- as an expansion of PC-based applications rather than a replacement for Office and other cornerstones of Microsoft's bottom line -- Ozzie and Gates have increasingly lifted the veil on more business-related initiatives.

In June, at Microsoft's TechEd 2006 corporate developer conference in Boston, Ozzie described how the company's Dynamics brand of CRM, ERP and financial software for mid-sized businesses would play into the Windows Live SaaS concept.

"Using the Web service functionality within Dynamics, users can create business mashups to bring together Web-based services into custom solutions to focus solving a business problem across disparate systems where there are a lot of information silos, " Ozzie said. "Under the name Live, we'll provide a blend of desktop software, server software and service offerings, " he added.

Search is a capability that both business users as well as consumers find invaluable, and it is also the key area of competition with rival Google, which holds a gigantic lead over third-ranked Microsoft and second-ranked Yahoo.

Monday, Microsoft announced the release of Live Search and in 47 markets worldwide, including final availability of Live Local Search in the U.K. and the U.S. The company said that Live Search will also now power the Web search capability on MSN.

Interested parties can try out Live Search here.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.


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