Windows Live Wave 4: Can it change “hearts and minds”?

Finally, it looks like Windows Live Wave 4 is just around the corner.  Microsoft last week began to talk publically about Messenger Wave 4, notably in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and in Amsterdam, where Messenger usage is heavy, to put it mildly.  If the timeline predictions floating around are correct (as they have been so far), a public “beta” should be available in early June – *perhaps* with an announcement by Steve Ballmer onstage at the “D8” Conference:


It’s been an agonizing year with little or no public discussion of Wave 4 and almost nothing in the way of updates or added features (unless you count Movie Maker).  In a blog post in December, Microsoft Corp. VP Chris Jones defended the lack of progress, saying:

There are certainly folks (and many commented on this blog) who would like to see us ship “sooner” and “change more.”  There are others that we hear from in other forums who “don’t like change” and want us to “keep things as they are.”  And then there are the questions of which  features we pick and how long those will take to be delivered with quality.  In the end, I’ll simply say that we are generally happy with our release rhythm and we recognize as well that our customers and competitors continue to innovate, which increases the importance of planning well.

However for Windows Live users, stuck using a barely functional Calendar with no phone sync (read: useless), a Messenger without tabbed conversations (probably the number one feature request forever), or threaded conversations in mail, this isn’t about “icing on the cake” type feature releases, it’s about basic functionality.  Up until now, Microsoft simply hasn’t delivered the goods.

But amazingly enough, from the looks of it, we’re soon going to get our hands on a well thought out, fully functional, integrated set of services.  From the best privacy controls in the business, to a set of social integrations we might actually use, to leading edge mobile services delivered to not only a new Windows Live friendly Windows Phone, but to all the major devices including the iPhone, for once Windows Live users may just be at the front of the pack, instead of trailing badly behind.

We’ve been with Windows Live since the beginning,  sometimes kicking and screaming, but still loyal to the idea that if Microsoft ever got its act together with Windows Live, it could be compelling.  In a few short weeks, for the first time, we may be getting our hands on what Windows Live has always promised to be.

Of course then the real work begins, as much of the world’s markets aren’t like the Netherlands and Brazil.  Most people in the US, for example, wouldn’t be caught dead using a Hotmail account as part of their personal brand (which is why it’s so sad Windows Live botched the brand and domain so thoroughly), and even with a great set of services the road to repositioning Windows Live as “cool” will be extremely difficult.  Windows Live Wave 4 looks to be taking a giant step in the right direction, however, but will it be enough to change hearts and minds?