Windows Live: Where it started, where we’ve been, and where we are now

Well, it’s that time of the year again.  It’s the time where everyone does their predictions for the new year and recap of the events of the year that is on its wayRay Ozzie at the Windows Live Announcement out.  Kip is going to be covering our list of things to watch for in 2007 and that means that I’m taking the trip down memory lane.  Let’s take a look back at how far Windows Live has come since LiveSide launched in January of this year.

It all started on November 1st, 2005 at a press event in San Francisco, CA.  Yes, it was over a year ago that Bill Gates officially heralded in “The Live Era.”  Live was announced to be founded on connecting applications, data, devices, and people in a seamless experience.  They hoped to achieve that through their initial set of applications and services:

– Windows Live Messenger
– Windows Live Mail
– Windows Live Safety Center

These products premiered to rave reviews from the journalists and bloggers present.  Niall Kennedy had this to say about Windows Live Mail, “Windows Live Mail has lots of details that make using a live Web application worthy of possibly ditching your desktop client.”  Michael Arrington of TechCrunch added about the day’s demos, “…what really got me today was the Gadget extensibility and the full VOIP IM integration.”  Clearly, Windows Live had made a good impression and had hit the ground running.

During December, Microsoft continued to improve upon and even started to test its new Messenger client.  Leah Pearlman, former Program Manager for Windows Live Messenger, proclaimed on the team’s MessengerSays blog, “The Windows Live Messenger Cat is out of the Microsoft Bag!”  The beta was released with new features such as Offline IM’s and VoIP to a select group of testers in the middle of the month.

At the beginning of 2006, we launched LiveSide.  Shortly thereafter, Windows Live Expo, Microsoft’s user selling website, was announced.  Later in the month, Microsoft introduced the concept of Live Contacts, a feature consistent throughout Windows Live which allows users to keep track of updates to their contacts’ information.  Live Contacts have been integrated into a lot of WL products, such as Messenger, Mail, Spaces, and Mobile.  They continue to be an integral part in the cohesiveness of the Windows Live effort.  Towards the end of the month, they launched their new “Live Labs” site.  Live Labs focuses on connecting Microsoft Research with the concepts that Windows Live stands for and presenting the results to the community.

A recurring theme with Windows Live is branding confusion.  A lot of that confusion started to become very apparent in February.  People around the blogosphere were buzzing with questions on whether the move to the Windows Live branding was a good idea.  Microsoft’s own Dare Obasanjo blasts the new branding on his blog, “I personally think that MSN is a pretty strong brand especially when it came to its communication assets and we shouldn’t be trying to replace it.”  Confusion around Windows Live’s branding continues to plague Windows Live to this day and rectifying this problem will be key to Windows Live’s success in 2007.  On February 13th, Kip Kniskern broke open the details for Office Live, Microsoft’s answer for an online productivity package.  David Hunter, from Microsoft News Tracker, was unimpressed with the Office Live release and compares it to their failed bCentral project, “So I guess we take it for what it is…Presumably, Microsoft thinks they’ll have more luck this time around, but it’s not clear why.”  To this point, the feedback coming from Office Live users has not been very favorable.  February also saw the first of many key resignations by Microsoft employees when David Cole, the Senior VP for MSN left the company.  Later in the month, Microsoft debuted its Live Local Streetside Technology Preview to much acclaim.  Brandon Paddock (Windows Search 4), offers up a warm compliment of the preview, “It currently only supports the Seattle and San Francisco areas, but damned if it’s not cool.”  As if that wasn’t enough, February wasn’t done yet.  In the closing days of the month, we first caught wind of Windows Live’s killer application, Windows Live Mail desktop.  More on what that team has accomplished later.

March started out with a bang in the form of the public debut of Windows Live Expo.  March also marked the first signs of Windows Live ID, Microsoft’s passport replacement and unified sign in service.  Social networking in MSN Spaces also launched to only the Australian locale as a test scenario.  Although we didn’t know the name at the time, in March, we also caught our first whiff of QnA, Microsoft’s “answers” service.  Windows Live Mail was also coming along nicely at this point.  We have still yet to see Mail released, but in the middle of March, they hit a major milestone, one million users.  March also brought one of our most popular posts, the final interface for Windows Live Messenger.  The new design was praised all around the web.  Gathering 867 diggs and 85 comments on Digg, it was clear that people liked what they saw.

April started off pretty slow, but everyone got excited when Niall Kennedy announced that he was joining Windows Live.  On his blog, he says, “I am excited to construct a team and product from scratch focused on scalability and connecting syndication clients and their users wherever they may exist…I’m excited about the many opportunities before me in my new job.”  Things were looking up for Windows Live (little did we know that Niall would later depart from Windows Live due to some differences in opinion that he had from the company).  Windows Live Mail desktop also made big improvements in April.  It was at this point that I was confident enough to say, “Windows Live Mail Desktop may be the killer application that carries Windows Live.” and I stand by that to this day.  April also saw the start of the rumors of one the biggest piece of vaporware that carries the Windows Live name: Live Drive.  Now, supposedly it is going to be released/announced at CES in the next few weeks, but until that happens, we can still file that in the unknown category.  According to Mary Jo Foley (then with Microsoft-Watch), “Microsoft has been eyeing the hosted storage space for at least two years,” so we will have to see how that all plays out.  We also caught a few rumors about an upcoming service called Windows Live Voicemail Aggregation, we are still not sure where this service or how it fits in with the rest of the Windows Live picture, but it sure sounds cool.  If anyone would like to comment on that, you can drop us a line (tipsATlivesideDOTnet) as always.  Windows Live Gallery, something that will be crucial to the success of Microsoft’s Gadget initiative was also announced in the month of April.  More from Mary Jo, in her interview with Blake Irving, corporate VP for the Windows Live Platform group, Blake tries to clarify the Windows Live vision, “When I explain Windows Live, I describe a service that seamlessly brings Web experiences together with Windows software and provides greater relevance in people’s lives. Saying that Windows Live is simply extensions to Windows is too Windows-centric, and saying that it is MSN services rebranded also sells Windows Live short.”  Amazon also announced big news in April.  They had dropped Google and started using Windows Live Search for A9 and Alexa.

Much like April, May got off to a slow start, but it would bring another big story.  On the 11th, Windows Live entered into the hardware arena with their high definition webcams, dubbed “LifeCams.”  Featuring tight integration with Windows Live Messenger and Spaces, the LifeCams were a big hit and I continue to see the VX-6000 model sold out at my local big box retailer.  In yet another confusing move, in May Microsoft started calling their Windows Live desktop search product “Windows Live Search.”  Todd Bishop (Seattle PI), commented on the subject, “Maybe someone at Microsoft has decided to follow the lead of the boxer George Foreman, famous for naming all his sons George.”  Later that month, we saw the first screenshots of the Windows Live Search Client, although we have yet to see the release of the application to this day.  On the 24th, web ranking company comScore stated that MSN Spaces had just become the most widely used blogging service, clocking in at over 100 million unique users.  At the end of the month, Windows Live OneCare, Microsoft’s security suite was released to the general public.

Recently Windows Live has been catering to third party developers to develop addins and gadgets for their services.  In June, Microsoft took the first step in engaging the developer community with  We also saw the beginning of the biggest fake out in Windows Live starting in June, the supposed availability of email addresses.  According to the Mail Support Blog, “Coming Soon: and domains On June 20th, two new domains will be available for customers signing up for a new Windows Live ID.”  Well, as it turns out the email addresses are still not available in December of the same year.  I guess we will have to wait until the final release of Windows Live Mail for that.  The not often talked about Windows Live Favorites also hit v1 in that same timeframe.  However, the biggest launch of the month was that of the much anticipated Windows Live Messenger.  Windows Live Search continues to lose ground on Google later in the month, again according to comScore.  They may say that they need more time to tweak it, I say that they they need a better marketing effort.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, take out an ad in this year’s Super Bowl.  It worked for GoDaddy, it can work for Live Search!

Here’s where the shakeup begins.  It’s no secret that Microsoft is undergoing a huge reorganization right now.  In July we started to see the first signs of that.  Chris Jones, formerly of Windows Vista, joined Windows Live as the Corporate VP for Windows Live Experience Program Management.  Kip also shed some light on Microsoft’s ongoing plans to conquer the storage space.  Once again, Ballmer miscues the release of Windows Live Search Center (as it was then being called) at the Worldwide Partner Conference.  It’s a beautiful thing when two rival companies can work together for the benefit of the consumers.  That’s exactly what happened with Microsoft and Yahoo released interoperability features between their two instant messaging clients.  Now, if only AOL would get in on the party…

August started out with a huge release.  The, previously mentioned, largest blogging service in the world, MSN Spaces, had just been relaunched and rebranded as Windows Live Spaces showing off new features such as social networking.  The shakeup continues as the RSS wizard, Niall Kennedy, leaves Windows Live after only a short few months.  His complaints with the way that Windows Live was being managed were heard throughout the blogosphere, “Microsoft has a “come to Redmond” mentality, which warps the world placing Redmond at the center of a software universe. Placing individual product groups in various locations will help solve overcrowding and spur innovation,” claims Kennedy when we talked with him shortly after his departure.  That was followed by the release that gained the most buzz from around the blogs, Windows Live Writer.  Naturally there would be a lot of excitement because it is an excellent blog authoring tool, developed by J.J. Allaire’s team at Microsoft.  Om Malik had this to say about the release, “It is not often, I say good things about Microsoft products, but with this free-blogging tool, I have to say: write on!”  A Windows Live employee offered up a tease for the much anticipated LiveDrive when he threw up a blog post on it, but quickly retracted it.  Michael Arrington slaps Microsoft on the wrist on TechCrunch, “Microsoft should know there is no better way to get someone’s attention in the blogosphere than pulling down a post.”  Well, maybe it was a mistake, or maybe they just wanted to create a little extra buzz.  It’s hard to tell at this point.  Windows Live Essentials, Microsoft’s answer to Google Pack was previewed and released into beta during August.

September brought great news from Virtual Earth (aka Windows Live Local).  Microsoft released Windows Live Local out of beta and included support for Birds eye view in a lot of cities.  MSN’s Soapbox video upload service (YouTube competitor) was also released in September.  The Mail Desktop team also squashed the rumor that the product would be called Windows Live Mail Center in my interview with them.  At the end of the month, our good friend, Leah Pearlman left the Messenger team to go work at Facebook.  This was a big blow to the Messenger team in my opinion since she was so good in dealing with and keeping the community updated on what was going on.

October brought the until then secret Codename Nemo out of the offices of RedWest and into the spotlight.  In case you don’t know what Nemo is, think about the combination of Windows Live in Media Center and Nemo is what you get.  “Microsoft is essentially exploring an uncharted territory of next generation online services, but this may prove to be an advantage over Google and Yahoo,” says Marius Oiga of Softpedia, referring to Microsoft’s Nemo project.  Amazon announced their Askville service, yet another competitor to QnA towards the middle of the month.  Again, more details of a reorganization, headed up by Steven Sinofsky begin to surface.  Finally, here’s a little bit of advertising from Windows Live Search, “Before we begin, let us state the obvious. We’re late to the game. We admit it. But instead of shrugging our shoulders and becoming a footnote in search history, we’ve decided to write a few new chapters. Because, quite frankly, it’s just the beginning,”  states the full page ad, appearing in newspapers around the US.

Virtual Earth got its biggest update ever at the beginning of November.  Adding a feature formerly known to us as Spaceland, Live Local now includes 3D representation of many major citiesScoble liked the update and values the healthy competition, “Pretty cool and good for us that Microsoft and Google are going at it.”  There was a little bit of an uproar about Microsoft’s claim that they would be deleting email addresses, acquired as a result of exploits from around the web.  “I just spent a lot of time switching over (including contacts, messenger, live desktop etc).  Doing this would hurt Windows Live’s natural daily evangelist pool…those first movers that are most likely to recommend Windows Live!” remarks one of our readers, Paulstorm.  However, shortly thereafter, Kevin Briody reassured everyone that their email addresses were safe, saying “We love all the enthusiasm for Windows Live, and certainly don’t want to stamp down on it in any way.”  The launch of Microsoft’s Zune player kills off MSN Music later in the month.  That was followed by more bad news from the Live Search camp.  The word was that Microsoft’s stake in the search industry had dropped by 8% this year, despite the launch of Windows Live Search.  One of our readers, Phunky, remarks, “Innovation is what’s needed. something new, not just copying features that other companies already have and make it prettier or change it up and make it slightly different. it’s gotta be something altogether NEW and bold and exciting to attract people.”  Donavon West also debuts his Windows Vista Countdown Gadget on LiveSide.  Towards the end of the month, more naming confusion arises as Microsoft renames its mapping service yet again.  First it was Virtual Earth, then Windows Live Local powered by Virtual Earth, and now it looks like they’re changing the name to Windows Live Maps, oh boy.  I know that this post is long, but just hang in there, we’re almost done.

Finally, we swing into the last month of the year, December.  Windows Live Search for Mobile was launched, featuring a built in version of Virtual Earth (or whatever we’re calling it this week), needless to say, I was impressed.  Steve Berkowitz blasts the Live branding in an interview with the New York TimesDare Obasanjo alludes to his displeasure with Berkowitz’s views on Windows Live Local, “I’m going to ignore the obvious flame bait of seeing an article claiming that one of our corporate vice presidents criticized what is probably the only best of breed online service we provide (i.e.…”  At last, we have some news on OneView, now known as Windows Search 4.  Brandon Paddock posts the details of his new announcement on the Shell Blog.  Recently, Hitwise released some data that shows that Windows Live QnA is trailing incredibly far behind Yahoo answers.  I guess you can’t expect them to take down the reigning champ in their first few months of operation.  That brings us to the present day.

There is a lot of speculation flying around about what the Consumer Electronics Show will bring for Windows Live.  There have been rumors that we will finally see Live Drive unveiled, but that has been really elusive for so long that it’s hard for me to confirm that with any sort of certainty.  It will definitely be interesting to see what the next year brings, but I’ll let Kip take care of those predictions.  2006 sure has been a wild ride.  We have seen a lot of crazy and unexpected (some not so unexpected) things coming out of Redmond over the past twelve months.  I’d like to congratulate the Windows Live team on making it through their first year, it’s a good start and a big accomplishment.  Thank you to our readers for sticking with us over the year.  You can look forward to more great stories from us in 2007 and maybe even some special festivities for our one year anniversary in January.  Well, I’m signing out for 2006, see you on the other side, Happy New Year everyone!