Microsoft Live Era Meets Dead Air

Reporter's Notebook: Microsoft's new set of online platforms can be described as a yawn. What the company showed was that it is embracing a new services model, though not totally.

SAN FRANCISCO—About every five years, Microsoft holds an event to introduce a "big bet" that Bill Gates is making in hopes of changing computing as we know it.

On Dec. 7, 1995, he announced Microsoft would support the Internet in its applications and operating systems.

July 2000 brought .Net, a programming architecture for Web applications, among other things.

On Tuesday here at the Palace Hotel, Bill introduced what hes calling the "Live era," in which software and online services and applications work together, portions paid for by advertising and subscription revenue.

It will be a few days before Ive really digested what was I witnessed here Tuesday, but here are some top-line thoughts:

Microsoft showed two online platforms, Windows Live and Microsoft Office Live.

Windows Live is a renamed version of Microsofts Start.com service. You can play with Windows Live at www.live.com.

What you will find there looks like a cross between MSN and SharePoint. Its a customizable home page, with new features to be added as the beta continues.

Microsoft Office Live is a set of small business services, including Web hosting and e-mail that is built largely atop SharePoint and incorporates the old bCentral hosted services.

If you get the idea that Microsoft didnt show anything incredibly new, youre right. What was shown were feature enhancements and repackaging.

Still, Office Live will interest really small businesses (10 or fewer employees) as soon as it goes live early next year.

I will describe the specific features of the two Live platforms to the news stories. Ive played with Live.com a bit already and as it currently exists, its a yawn.

Microsoft is making its biggest push ever into advertising-supported software. This isnt at all surprising, and the company will soon roll out a new, global ad server to place relevant ads into content and services delivered to users.

The new ad-based services are a major swipe at both Google and Yahoo, and seem to eclipse both of them.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts effort to compete with Google and Yahoo with its new platforms.

It would not surprise if a year from now, Microsoft was widely considered to be superior to its competitors offerings.

Expect to see some MSN products, perhaps including Messenger, rebranded as Windows Live.

However, MSN will continue to be a Microsofts "programmed content" service, although I wonder how separate these services will remain over time.

Next Page: Microsofts competitors.