Windows Live--Welcome to the Social

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on November 17, 2008

I’m a bit late getting to this, but Microsoft has finally taken the wraps off its completely overhauled Windows Live service, Redmond’s attempt to become a force in the burgeoning world of social networking. While the service is well designed, it seems awfully late in the day. I wonder whether the advantages of unifying a bunch of services into a nice package will be enough to put a real dent into the incumbency established by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and dozens of other social networking providers.

The Live home page portal combines legacy services carried over from MSN, new Live social features, and an assortment of other offerings. In the legacy camp are Hotmail, contacts, calendar, MSN Messenger, and the MSN Events event-panning service.

The Social stuff is combined under the Spaces label. It includes Friends' updates, a dead-ringer for Facebook's Friends' timeline, your personal space, which is Microsoft's answer to Facebook and MySpace profiles, and SkyDrive, a cloud storage and sharing service that offers 5 GB free.

The miscellaneous services include OneCare, the $50-a-year anti-malware, tuneup, and backup service and Office Live, a small business-oriented collaboration system. There are also downloadable versions of Windows Live Mail, the successor to Outlook Express, and Live Writer, a desktop blog authoring tool. At the recent Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft said it will roll out cloud versions of core Office applications under the Live rubric in coming months.

All of these components are perfectly good and in some cases are better executed than their competitors. SkyDrive is particularly well done. The question is whether anyone really cares. After all, if integration were the key to success in this business, AOL would still be on top of the online world. Or maybe Yahoo! But people seem perfectly happy using individual best-of-breed services, combining, say, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter without a second thought.

Microsoft is also going to have to work a lot harder on the mobile aspects of Live. There are mobile clients for Hotmail and Messenger on a number of platforms, but for Spaces you are stuck with a Web version optimized for mobile browsers. There's nothing like the Facebook and Twitterberry applications that I have been using on BlackBerry or the corresponding apps for the iPhone. I the youth demographic that is probably the most important market for Live, smartphones are fast replacing computers as the primary tools of communication. If you don't have a prominent place in the mobile world, you might as well not exist.

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