Windows, Office Go ‘Live’

Microsoft’s push of Web-based software services is indicative of changes to come in personal computing.

November 1, 2005

Imagine being able to access all your software applications, personal files, and information stored on your personal computer through any Web-enabled device from anywhere you can access the Web. No more concerns about carrying your computer programs, contact records, and history of correspondence with you; having sufficient memory to store and back up vital data; or protecting hardware and software against unauthorized access and viruses.

Those are the kinds of changes driven by Microsoft’s announcement this month of Windows Live and Office Live, which are Web-based extensions of its dominant operating system and productivity suite. Web-based software is an idea that has been kicked around and experimented with for some time, so there’s nothing really new in the concept. What makes this announcement significant is that it’s Microsoft leading the charge, promoting cultural changes in how we use and view personal computing.

As first-generation products, these new services only hint at the things to come, as personal computing shifts from a local to a Web-based activity. That can be a positive development, putting everyone and every software tool and database on the same network. But it also carries new concerns about becoming truly and fully dependent on a remote vendor for all your computer resources—and access to them.

A Personalized Gateway

Windows Live, currently available in a beta version allows you to create a personalized portal that serves as your gateway to all the resources—content, services, software applications, and people—you want access to through the Internet. Think of it as the Web equivalent of the desktop on your PC: everything you need online, organized in one centralized location. It can include the latest news of personal or professional interest, Web-based software applications, and quick links to communicate with others by whatever means is most convenient for you—be it e-mail, instant messaging, or VoIP PC-based phone calling.

Components of Windows Live will be offered for free or as fee-based services. Microsoft will determine the launch of the product after beta testing and feedback from early adopters. Subscription fees haven’t yet been announced.

Initial components of Windows Live will include:

  • Live.com: This a home page that you can customize to display information you want, including the latest news feeds on topics of interest from MSNBC, e-mail listservs or blogs you choose to subscribe to, and the Windows Live Search engine to search the Web.
  • Windows Live Mail: The new e-mail service lets you manage your account and send or receive messages any place around the globe where you can connect to the Internet. This update to Hotmail has been designed to be a faster, more secure, and easier-to-use e-mail service.
  • Windows Live Messenger: A communications module that offers instant messaging, photo and file sharing, and VoIP calling.
  • Windows Live Safety Center: Allows you to scan and remove viruses.
  • Windows OneCare Live: A security and maintenance suite for protecting PCs with antivirus, firewall, data back-up, and restore functions.

Mobile Small Business

Office Live will debut as a beta version in early 2006 as a Web-based service/software package for small businesses with 10 or fewer employees. Microsoft will expand its Office Live features and programs over time, but its initial offering includes a tool for creating a company Web site. What makes Office Live more than just a Web-site building solution is what comes bundled with it: Web-based software that’s an extension of the Microsoft Office software suite and the ability to create a collaborative workspace online to communicate and share documents with colleagues and clients in real time.

The new service will initially target those looking for a turnkey solution to build a Web site, either as a primary or secondary site. At this point, Microsoft hasn’t yet announced how to integrate its new offerings into existing Web sites hosted by other service providers, but it’s safe to assume that will eventually follow.

When launched, three versions of Office Live will be offered:

  • Office Live Basics: A free package that gives you a company domain name, 30MB of hosted Web space, five e-mail accounts, and basic tools for designing a Web site and analyzing site traffic. But keep in mind that as with many other “free” Web site solutions, you’ll pay for using this service by having advertising on your site from product and service vendors.
  • Office Live Essentials: A subscription-based service that provides a total of 50 e-mail accounts; FrontPage support for advanced Web design; advanced site-traffic analysis; and hosted applications for managing customer contacts, projects, and documents.
  • Office Live Collaboration: The deluxe package, which offers the services of the other two options as well as a private, protected Web site where your company employees and specified outside contacts can collaborate on or view projects and documents on the Web site at their convenience.

To demonstrate how its new services would work, Microsoft pointed to its new commercial real estate application that incorporates Windows Live as an example. RE3W, Real Estate on the World Wide Web, combines components of Windows Live with other software products from Microsoft and third-party vendors in a Web-based solution to simplify and accelerate commercial transactions.

Using it, commercial practitioners can locate and view a satellite image of a property or neighborhood, and instantly retrieve information about surrounding properties by drawing a circle around the area of interest. They can then search for the owner’s contact information, check that name and number against the National Do-Not-Call Registry, and initiate contact, if desired.

It’s that kind of centralized access to all essential tools and information resources that demonstrates the value and rationale for Web-based computing. Microsoft’s foray into this arena confirms the trend toward a new way of computing is already underway. Over time, Web-based software services will evolve into aggregate solutions that can encompass and deliver all your computing needs.

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