Microsoft To Liven Up 'Live' Brand

In a moment of brutal but refreshing honesty, a top Microsoft official recently said his company's "Live" brand needs more than a little polishing.

Responding to reporters' questions at the Search Marketing Expo conference in Seattle, Kevin Johnson, president of Microsoft's platforms and services division, said Redmond needs to "fix" its "search image" if it ever hopes to seriously compete against Google in the search and advertising markets.

Johnson also confessed that part of Live's branding problem has to do with the varying identities for the same online service. He said this has only served to confuse users about what the heck individual products under the Live umbrella do and how they relate to each other. As an example, he pointed to services such as MSN Hotmail, Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger and MSN Live Messenger.

The inspiration for this urgency of course, is Microsoft's crumbling attempt to buy Yahoo, which would have immediately improved the company's position in the search and advertising markets.

Another inspiration is the recent numbers that show Microsoft's share of the search market is just under 10 percent while Google's is a tad under 60 percent and continuing to climb. Yahoo controls around 30 percent, which would have been a nice addition to Microsoft's share of that market.

With the Chips Down, AMD Banks on Puma
It's always been a comfort for many in the industry to know AMD has been around to be the Pepsi to Intel's Coke. Every market -- both inside and outside the computer industry -- that hopes to thrive needs viable choices.

But over the past year or more, some -- particularly server, desktop and laptop manufacturers -- have been concerned that their choice for chips might get narrowed down to just Coke. AMD's financial fortunes have fallen over the past 18 months as the company has reported six consecutive quarters of losses totaling some $4 billion.

Some of the blame has to be laid at AMD's door due to poor execution in delivering some key products. But the other reason is that Intel simply stepped into the breach with some nice products. While AMD was able to hold on to its share of the laptop market (about 15 percent), it lost literally half of its server market share to Intel in just two years because of a product delay and the wide acceptance of Intel's Core Duo chips.

Well, Pepsi is making what it hopes will be a comeback with its Puma chip for notebooks, announced at the Computex show in Taipei yesterday. The chip features some breakthroughs (the company's word, not mine) in power conservation and graphics capabilities. With Puma, AMD hopes to grab a bigger hunk of the higher-end graphics market because of the growing number of people preferring to watch movies or view graphic-intensive Web sites on home computers or while traveling. What gives company officials hope it can do this are the commitments from Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and Acer to use the chip in their upcoming systems.

But just as you find Coke and Pepsi side-by-side at your local grocery store, Intel also showed off a new chip, codenamed Atom, at the same show. The upcoming Intel chip is going after another segment of the mobile market, namely wireless units that would be in a category between phones and laptops.

AMD officials are hoping Puma will spearhead the company back to profitability. Let's hope so. It's important to have a strong No. 2 to keep Intel honest.

Microsoft Goes After Corporate Users with Vista...Again
Microsoft appears ready to put its fabled marketing machine to a serious stress test. This time, it's cranking it up as part of a redoubled effort to convince businesses that now is the time to switch over to Windows Vista.

Why it's choosing this particular time to send its shock troops into the breach again isn't so clear. It's not like it can build on the momentum of Vista's recently released Service Pack 1 (although it makes mention of the improved SP1 in its campaign), or even the promise of new Vista features aimed at corporate users (senior vice president for Windows and Windows Live, Steven Sinofsky, made that abundantly clear in a recent interview with CNET).

Nope, nothing like that. It seems Microsoft thinks you should take yet another look at the product because SP1 contains even better security than the initial release, much better driver support and fewer compatibility problems with your favorite applications.

In his introduction to a white paper released for the new campaign (available here as a PDF), Mike Nash, vice president of product management for Microsoft, wrote: "It is my firm belief that Windows Vista is ready for your business. If I ran an IT organization, I would first test and remediate my applications on Vista...make sure all new machines had 2GB of RAM and run Enterprise Service Pack 1."

Well, Mike, unless there's a generous dose of pixie dust in SP1 that hasn't been brought to light yet, I'm not sure taking yet another look at Vista's capabilities will convince many corporate users to spend the money needed to deploy it.

But one point made by the company that is worth considering is the money IT shops can save compared to the now-sainted XP (company officials should have led with this one) in deploying Vista across multiple machines. Now, this, I can confirm after talking with IT pros over the past year, who tell me there really are measurable cost savings having to do with tech support of desktop users.

And this time out, Microsoft got market researcher IDC to step up and give witness. "Collectively considered, our research shows that customers found Windows Vista out-of-the-box savings of $236 per PC annually in IT labor, user labor and improved productivity," IDC said.

As critical as I can be of Vista's shortcomings, I also have no doubt there's a measurable gap between people's perception of what the product is and what it can constructively do for corporate users. But the way to sell this thing until Windows 7 arrives (supposedly) in late 2009 is to tout money it can save IT shops, not things like improved driver support.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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