Technology

Memo Outlines Microsoft's Plans


Last November, Microsoft (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates kicked off what he called the era of "Live software," saying he'd unveil a host of new ways for consumers, businesses, and developers to gain access to his company's services over the Web. Four months in, the new era appears to be well under way.

David Cole, a Microsoft senior vice-president, outlined progress and key objectives for Windows Live in a memo obtained by BusinessWeek Online. "We've made incredible progress on various Windows Live initiatives," he writes in the Mar. 7 note.

PAYING OFF. Windows Live is the centerpiece of an effort by Microsoft to catch pioneers such as Google (GOOG) and Yahoo! (YHOO) in Internet-related technology and sales (see BW Online, 11/2/05, "Why Microsoft Is Going Live,"). "Make no mistake, Windows Live is our strategic bet to change the game and win, while we grow and drive revenue with MSN.com," writes Cole, head of MSN and the Personal Services Group.

And he offers a glimpse of just how well that bet is paying off. Live.com, Microsoft's customizable search-oriented portal, has more than 3 million users and the second-highest Net Promoter score -- a metric showing how many users would recommend the site to others -- of all MSN.com properties, writes Cole.

That's good news, since the Live.com portal is the entry point for the first release of its Windows Live Search, the site through which Microsoft hopes to make the big bucks through paid search. Microsoft on Mar. 8 unveiled a slew of features aimed at letting users personalize the way they search the Web (see BW Online, 3/8/06, "Microsoft: Searching Your Favorite Sites").

FREE SCANS. How are other Windows Live features faring? Windows Live Mail, the new version of Microsoft's flagship Hotmail e-mail, is hosting 750,000 users, and the company hopes it will host 20 million by June, according to the memo. Windows Live Mail "was rewritten from the ground up...to enable high performance, client-like functionality, plus a host of security features, including anti-phishing," Cole writes.

And Windows Live Safety Center, a free online service that helps protect customers' computers with virus cleaning and comprehensive PC health checkup capabilities, has received 13 million page views since its mid-November launch and has completed about 2 million free scans, the memo reports.

Windows Live Messenger, which lets customers make calls and create a virtual workspace to share files with others, already has more than 1.5 million beta users and is seeing much grassroots viral marketing, according to the memo. Windows Live Local search, customized to the user's geographic location, "is surpassing our competition with industry-leading technology," the memo says.

LEAVE OF ABSENCE. A slew of other features are on the way, the company says. "Over the next 3-6 months, we'll ship more innovative technology into the marketplace than during our entire 10-year history," writes Cole, who said in February he'll be taking a year's leave of absence starting in April.

How will all that innovation be delivered? Services will be introduced with what he calls a "rolling thunder" approach. "We'll release new services as they become available, upgrade existing services, and launch marketing efforts in global phases," the memo says.

One such service is a click-per-call capability that will let users connect to businesses via Web-based calls by clicking on MSN search links. Sources tell BusinessWeek Online that the capability will be unveiled the week of Mar. 13.

Four months isn't very long, as eras go. But results have nonetheless imbued Microsoft with confidence. "I know we've spent the last few years coming from behind, but we've truly turned a huge corner," Cole says. "And I can assure you the onslaught of upcoming Windows Live services will place us in a strong competitive position and will reestablish our leadership in the industry."

The onslaught has yet to translate to big inroads on rivals' turf -- but Google may want to ready the defenses to be on the safe side.


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