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Microsoft Debuts New Windows and Office Live Offerings

Microsoft’s version of a totally integrated world where computing power surrounds and works with people seamlessly is taking a giant step closer to reality. At least, that was the pitch from chief software architect and chairman Bill Gates and chief technical officer Ray Ozzie Tuesday as they rolled out a new batch of services, some already in beta testing, dubbed Windows Live and Office Live.

At an event in San Francisco, Gates and Ozzie, showed off both business and personal scenarios using beta and demo code.

“Windows Live is a set of personal Internet services and software designed to bring together in one place all of the relationships, information and interests people care about most, with more safety and security features across their PC, devices and the Web,” according to a Microsoft statement.

Likewise, Office Live is “designed to help companies establish an online presence, automate key internal and external business tasks, and collaborate with employees, partners and customers,” the statement continues.

Unlike competitors’ offerings like Oracle On Demand, which is targeted at enterprise customers, Office Live services will aim to attract businesses with 10 or fewer workers, at least initially. The services can be used independently or with Office. Microsoft plans to begin beta testing Office Live in early 2006.

The sweeping services plan would seem to embrace Microsoft’s corporate mantra of five years ago, “information anytime, anywhere, on any device.” At the same time, it presents a united front against other similar or competing visions – search giant Google, for instance, which last month announced a deal with Sun that includes supporting the competing open source OpenOffice suite. The details of that collaboration, however, are still unclear. (See “Sun and Google Announce Collaboration.”).

Ozzie, who created Lotus Notes, as well as the concept of collaboration software, and later sold it to IBM, is still seen by many as a true innovator and visionary. Microsoft bought Ozzie’s latest startup – Groove Networks – earlier this year. Groove, an eponymously-named product, is an enterprise-class instant messenger and online collaboration tool that allows users to share links, chat and co-edit documents, among other functions. Microsoft tapped Ozzie in September to help develop a companywide services strategy.

“Obviously Microsoft recognizes an emerging market for software-as-a-fee-based-service from small businesses to large enterprises, one which TBR estimates will top $1 billion in [fiscal 2006],” Stuart Williams, an analyst at market analysis firm Technology Business Research said in an e-mail to ENT. “The company now has an opportunity to shape what [we] call ‘blended services,’ where in-house applications and software-as-a-service are extremes in a software continuum. Microsoft has initiated its service offerings by meeting obvious needs [in] security, updates, collaboration, messaging and data backup.”

Of course, it isn’t likely to all be smooth sailing, given Microsoft’s continuing security patch problems and users’ perceptions that its popular software isn’t quite as safe as it claims.

Still, the debut is a culmination of sorts. For years, Gates has been famous for his “cool-tech” videos demonstrating his vision of where computing is going in helping people solve the puzzles and problems of day-to-day life and business, in both an entertaining and sometimes humorous manner. The first of those, presented at Comdex in 1990 introduced Microsoft’s “information at your fingertips” push of the 1990s.

At the same time, the Internet has become ubiquitous and broadband connectivity has burgeoned. Concomitant with that, the pervasiveness of computing has – as Gates had predicted 10 years ago – become commonplace. Advances in Web services and service-oriented architectures, including proliferation of technologies such as RSS, Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, also help to make Microsoft’s services offerings possible, the company says.

Windows Live services will include Live.com, a personalized home page, Windows Live Mail, a replacement for MSN Hotmail, and Windows Live Messenger. Additionally, Microsoft will offer Windows Live Safety Center, a Web site where users can scan for and remove viruses from their PCs, and Windows OneCare Live, the company’s previously announced “PC health” subscription aimed at protecting and maintaining PCs via an integrated service that includes anti-virus, firewall, PC maintenance, and data backup and restore capability. Another service, Windows Live Favorites is a service that enables individuals to access their Microsoft Internet Explorer and MSN Explorer favorites from any PC that’s online.

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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