The long botched history of Windows Live

As longtime readers know, Windows Live and LiveSide go way back.  We started this blog in January 2006,  two months after the Windows Live initiative was announced.  Since then, we’ve been there for beta tests and the transitions and transformations, rebrandings, product launches and product shutdowns that have marked a long but in the end quite disappointing history of a brand that wasn’t to be.  Of course Microsoft continues to push on with its consumer services, and we’re still here to try to make sense of it all.  That won’t change, even if the branding does.

So as we mark what looks like the end of Windows Live as a brand with the launch of Windows 8 and a move to “Microsoft Hotmail”,  “Microsoft SkyDrive” “Microsoft account”, etc., Microsoft doesn’t look like it will even do the honorable thing and put poor Windows Live out of its misery.  Not only will we be referring to “Windows Live” just out of habit, but the name will continue to be baked into products both from Microsoft and 3rd parties, probably for a long time to come. 

Part of the problem is that while Microsoft has apparently given up on the Windows Live brand, it doesn’t appear to be replacing it with a new but similar name, as it did with the Live Search to Bing rebrand.  Instead of “Windows Live ID”, we’ll have Microsoft account (note the lower case “a”), and the new Metro style apps in Windows 8 seem to be planning on getting by with no discernable branding at all.  Just “Photos” or “Mail” or “Messaging”, and that’s enough, apparently.

And don’t even get us started on “Windows Phone”.

So that leaves us with the “generic” branding of Windows 8, legacy “Windows Live” branding lurking in various nooks and crannies, and whatever happens to Windows Live Essentials in Windows 7 and Vista.  In short, a mess.  The kind of mess, coincidentally, that Windows Live was supposed to clean up as various pieces of MSN and Windows were all trying to do the same thing under a variety of banners.

For whatever reason (probably spending too much time looking at metrics and not enough energy selling the product), Windows Live has never been treated well as a brand, even within Microsoft.  Diluted by similar names from other similar but siloed products (Games for Windows … Live, Xbox Live, etc.), applied to whatever new consumer product happened by (Windows Live Barcode, anyone?), and foisted upon products that were far better off without a rebrand (Hotmail, or MSN Messenger, still known to this day as “MSN” in some parts of the world), Windows Live never stood much of a chance.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Microsoft is doing great with the Xbox Live brand.  It makes sense and adds value.  But of course that’s coming out of the Entertainment and Devices Division, where Windows engineers don’t hold all the power and make all the decisions, even poor ones about branding strategy. 

Microsoft needs a “Metro” for branding: a single “brand language” applied to all of its products.  A common “Live” branding strategy across the company could have positioned the company as “the” place to get connected consumer services, instead of as an afterthought to services like Gmail and Dropbox.  But alas, it’s too late now, and we’ll have a whole new set of branding failures to deal with after Microsoft figures out that no brand at all, and another mess of mismatched brands, isn’t going to work either.  Too bad.