Microsoft Goes Live

Boy it?s been a long time coming hasn?t it? In 1995 Microsoft suddenly discovered the web and here, 10 years later it finally looks like they are embracing the power of the Internet with their core offerings.   Browsers were birthed by the likes of Netscape and we have been waiting for Microsoft to take their key legacy products, Office and Windows, to the Web in more then an anecdotal fashion.  This week they announced such a move with Windows Live and Office Live.  

This follows Xbox Live and the three are, in fact, somewhat related. We?ll refresh you on Xbox Live, then provide an overview on Windows Live and Office Live and conclude by talking about what this all means for the future. 

Xbox 360 Live

Xbox Live has been around for a number of years now and it has already demonstrated how much richer a console gaming experience can be if you are connected to other players on the web. I?ve personally had a mixed experience here as I typically log in with my own Xbox character and proceed to be rapidly killed over and over again earning the honorable nickname ?slow target?.   However, for most, this has provided a way for friends to play against each other without being in the same room, fathers to play with sons locally or remotely (kids do go off to school and families don?t always stay together), and for people to get to know each other through gaming, even though they have never resided on the same continent. 

It simply feels more real to play against real people and sports games (racing in particular) can be vastly more interesting with real racers. Xbox 360 takes this up to a much higher level with rankings and profiles that better match people to each other and provide a certain amount of enhanced parental control because there are predators out there most parents are concerned about.

From the menu a person can see if a friend is on-line, what game they are playing and even IM them from a Windows machine.  Online commerce has been enabled to provide a way for players to create and sell game items through the Xbox, and for companies to sell incremental upgrades to games the same way.  In addition, a whole class of games will be sold online so if you have a friend who wants to play a game you don?t have in this category you can simply buy it through the Xbox 360 and you?ll be playing in minutes.  Parents can pre-fund accounts so that things don?t get out of hand and I?m sure parents are always actively looking at ways to spend extra money. 

Of course most of us won?t get to see Xbox 360 live for some time because they sold out this year?s allotment weeks ago. 

Windows Live

Think of Windows Live as your place to go to on everything Windows coupled with a showcase of what Microsoft can do with something they call ?gadgets?.  For Windows this is where you?ll get service and support, where you?ll find out about new products, and where you?ll get an increasing number of platform enhancements.  

The Gadgets will allow you to create a much more flexible Windows home page than you currently can do with MSN. You will be able to view your mail, aggregate your RSS feeds, even connect to compliant sites in a way that allows you to view all of this information from any device be it a PC, Phone, PDA, or Kiosk.  

With enhancements to the IM client, which is connected to this, you?ll be able to make VoIP calls and with later enhancements you?ll be able to navigate visually (much like Google Earth) and not only locate where you are going but see it and call it from the same interface. This could be really handy if you are stuck in a large city and suddenly discover the need to make a reservation for a lot of ravenous people.  (I?m thinking there are a few folks at FEMA that will really appreciate this feature. 

Overall this will become your connection back to Microsoft and a pipe that Microsoft will increasingly use to provide service and feature enhancements. 

Office Live

Office Live is really targeted at small businesses of 10 or fewer people. It goes into beta next year and it will initially provide collaboration and web tools often not seen outside of large enterprises.  

Initially you?ll be able to use this service to more easily share files, rapidly create more professional looking web sites, and to better stay in touch with clients and customers. Eventually this will embrace a broader set of communication and presentation tools.  

One feature that currently exists in a number of web products will be the ability to tie your business contacts back to a centralized address manager so that when their, or your, contact information changes your or their address books will automatically get updated. In total there will initially be 20 small business applications.

This is still relatively rudimentary so expect it to get feature improvements on a regular basis.  

What?s it Cost?

Initially it is paid for by advertising however there are provisions for enhanced services for those that initially don?t want to see the ads and eventually these enhanced charged services may get enhanced features. At least initially this is advertising funded so unless you really hate looking at ads, this is a lot of stuff for an incredibly reasonable price.  

Looking Forward

Over time this will be part of a long process to moving software to a service model. For a few years we will get additional services added on a more regular basis through online properties like Live. In about a year Apple is expected to roll out a software delivery model using the iTunes back end and Microsoft probably won?t be far behind.  In 10 to 15 years all of our software may not only come from the web but actually may be hosted there. This is the beginning of a long path to a change our descendents may simply not believe we took so long to make. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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