NY Times: Will Berkowitz keep Windows Live?

Still no sign of Ray Ozzie, but Online Services Group Senior Vice President Steve Berkowitz has been popping up all over the place lately, and the bottom line seems to be a return to supporting MSN at the expense of Windows Live innovation.  In a report in Saturday’s (Dec 9 2006) New York Times, Berkowitz isn’t even sure if Windows Live is the right name:

Mr. Berkowitz does not defend the brand choice he inherited.

“I don’t know if Live is the right name,” he said, saying he had not decided what to do about it. But before he gets around to deciding whether to change the brand, he wants to make Microsoft’s search engine itself more appealing to consumers.

According to Berkowitz in the Times article, Microsoft has “lost its way” because it became too enamored with “software wizardry, like its new three-dimensional map service”

“A lot of decisions were driven by technology; they were not driven by the consumer,” he said. “It isn’t always the best technology that wins. It is the best experience.”

Berkowitz has decided to turn his attention back on to MSN, a strategy that seems to explain some of the confusion we’ve been commenting on here recently, including the MSN Soapbox branding, the use of “Live” instead of “Windows Live”, and a general lack of movement in new products for Windows Live.

So for now, Mr. Berkowitz has decreed that Microsoft will promote at least two Internet services. MSN, in Mr. Berkowitz’s conception, is a conventional portal with links to programming on various topics that competes with Yahoo and AOL. Windows Live, which uses the Live.com site, is meant to look much like Google, a spare-looking page that can be customized with modules from various services and news feeds.

What does this mean for Windows Live?  Well for one thing it means some pretty disheartened workers.  Niall Kennedy is quoted in the article, saying “Microsoft is no longer the primary place for technical talent”, as funds for his group dried up this summer when Microsoft stock fell sharply, primarily on news of increased spending for Windows Live.  Kennedy only lasted 4 months before he gave up.

At the risk of moving this article over to the opinion blog, many of the problems Berkowitz faces were caused  not by too much focus on technical wizardry, but by a lack of clear direction, both for MSN and for Windows Live.  It’s not clear that Berkowitz understands that, but at least he’s surfaced.  Hopefully a clearer picture will emerge.