It’s been a little over a year since the Windows Live initiative was announced, in November 2005, and a year since we started LiveSide. Harrison has looked back on what the first year was like – lots of name changes, some new features and products, some disappointing numbers and some good ones, and lots of questions to be answered.
In this post we’ll take a look at what lies ahead – what’s going to be done, what needs to be done. Let’s start with what we see as the main areas of focus for Windows Live for 2007 and beyond:
- Spaces and Mail
- The MSN Problem
- Cloud Storage
- Vista Integration
- Market Perception
- The Live Initiative
Search will continue to be a main focus for Windows Live, although news in the past few months that Microsoft has actually lost market share since MSN Search became Windows Live Search has been sobering. This is going to be a long uphill battle. Live Search is not going to catch Google this year, or any time in the near future, not with a desktop web based search box product anyway. Live Search must catch Google in relevancy, which it hasn’t done yet, and then extend search to offer valid reasons to make a switch. Will Live Search offer new products to compel users to switch? We don’t know of any immediate killer apps, so let’s hope there are surprises in store here. However the emphasis is going to continue to be making Live Search better. It’s come a long way in a year, expect it to continue to improve. Whether that’s enough to improve market share is one of the big questions of 2007.
Live Search stands a much better chance in new areas of search, specifically in mobile search. Windows Live and Windows Mobile are building significant products in the mobile space. Live Search, integrated with Virtual Earth maps (which also integrate with other Windows Live products) will begin to offer compelling products in an area of search not (yet) dominated by Google. New products from Windows Live Mobile should be coming out soon, and the future may be looking rosiest for Windows Live here.
Spaces and Mail
Spaces and Mail form the major part of the Windows Live core, and how they develop through the year will affect the largest number of end users. A migration from Hotmail to Live Mail will in effect force millions of users around the world to pay attention to Windows Live, and we should see the beginnings of that migration at least in 2007. Expect some significant announcements from Windows Live Spaces in the first part of the year, with the long awaited migration of MSN Groups hopefully getting some public discussion. Another long awaited product, Windows Live Calendar, should appear, bringing with it significant events in Spaces and across Windows Live. With Windows Live Mail and Mail desktop leaving beta soon, hopefully (finally) with @live.com addresses to go along with it, the move towards a unified inbox should provide some more exciting development in these products.
The MSN Problem
Microsoft needs to figure out what to do with Windows Live as it relates to MSN, something we’ve been saying almost from the day Windows Live was announced a year ago last November. Little was done early on to dispel the notion that Windows Live was to be a replacement for MSN. By introducing a new brand and then not committing to either one, Windows Live has in effect weakened the MSN brand, when the idea was to build new strength into Microsoft’s web services branding. Recent remarks by Steve Berkowitz and the promotion of Joanne Bradford are signs that Microsoft is concerned with the relationship of MSN to Windows Live, and how they are treated as brands in the coming months will be crucial to the effectiveness of both brands.
Will we see a Live Drive in 2007? A cloud storage solution, whether it involves just better access to the up to 4 gb of space provided by Live Mail (Plus), or digital media storage and sharing, or a new kind of “hard drive in the sky” (or a combination of all three), is a key part of Windows Live. Originally set to make an appearance in mid-2006, whatever product or products slated to go public have been delayed. More than one solution is, or has been, in the works, so sorting out the best way to approach this potentially huge part of the Windows Live initiative could be slowing things down. Expect to see some movement in this area for sure, but a full blown final product in 2007 seems unlikely.
Of course we will see progress in many Windows Live apps, and quite possibly some new ones. The emphasis for the early part of the coming year is to get existing Windows Live services out of beta, however, so we may not see the parade of new beta apps that we did in 2006. Look for work in the area of digital media and media sharing, as well as calendaring and storage.
In many ways, Windows Live in the long run is more platform than product. Live.com began as an incubation project called Start.com, and then somehow got tagged the successor to MSN.com, but it remains a fertile testing ground and proof of concept for much of what drives Windows Live as a platform. The platform aspect of Windows Live revolves around both outward facing development, meaning more work around Gadgets and more promotion of Windows Live APIs, and also inward facing development, as a Windows Live platform to make it easier and better to build Windows Live apps is put into place. Integrated services, a common interface and launching point, a common sign-in, interchangeable parts, gadgets, and a strong brand stand to set Windows Live services apart from the competition. Expect continued work on this platform aspect of Windows Live, and for new Windows Live products built around this platform.
We’ll soon know how quickly Vista takes hold, and the consumer launch at the end of January will mark an important time not only for Vista but for Windows Live. Vista offers easy access to Windows Live services such as Messenger, Live Mail, and OneCare, and expect more Windows Live services to be featured both in the marketing blitz that’s coming with the release of Vista, and in tie-ins from within the operating system itself. These services will not be bundled in to the OS, but offered as easy to install extras. Expect more work on integration of Windows Live and Vista gadgets as well, and more visibility for gadgets as Vista sidebar pushes the idea into the mainstream.
The question here is not so much how Windows Live is perceived in the marketplace, but whether or not Microsoft and Windows Live learn to work the market. As we’ve said before, the idea of transparency, of cutting through the old ways of marketing in order to open up conversations seems to have lost favor among Windows Live product teams. It’s (old style) business as usual, with secrecy a top priority, in a time when transparency is key to success. With arguably the largest blogging product in use in the world today, after a promising start Windows Live product teams and individuals have fallen far behind in opening up the kind of conversations with consumers that they need to in order to succeed. Marketing Windows Live seems to be left to Marketing, and that’s just not going to work in the Web 2.0 world. It’s all of the arrogance of a monopoly with almost none of the market share, all over again. Will Windows Live teams turn back to blogging? to conversations with their customers? Good questions for the coming year.
The Live Initiative
The promise of Windows Live, a set of web services greater than the sum of the parts, with compelling reasons to use Windows Live services together, and product teams reaching across boundaries within Microsoft to build something new and great, is largely unfilled after a year. This is a big project, and not all of the pieces are in place. It’s easy to get discouraged by looking at short term numbers, by the sheer complexity and size of the undertaking. But Windows Live made a lot of good progress in year one, just read Harrison’s look back. This game is just beginning. By this time next year we should have a much clearer picture of how Windows Live is doing. It’s going to be an interesting year.