Are Office Live and Windows Live Microsoft's response to Google? Microsoft's announcement of these new online services was interesting and there are implications for IT folks.
The speculation about these services being a reaction to Google isn't totally off the mark, given the fact that Google is making use of Microsoft's own Windows platform and applications to extend its reach. For example, Google's toolbar for Internet Explorer, Google Desktop (which works well with all of Microsoft's desktop applications), Google Earth (Windows only) and Blogger for Word all leverage Microsoft's stuff.
Office and Windows Live are Microsoft's acknowledgement of these attempts to co-opt the traditional Microsoft space with new offerings built around Web 2.0 technologies. There's been a lot of buzz about using Ajax for rich Web development, and Microsoft wants to be part of that buzz.
At the same time, Microsoft knows that a rich-applications-and-operating-system model still has a lot of life left in it. It's not about one versus the other for Microsoft; it's about both working together. The new services recognise the importance of connectivity and the near-ubiquitous nature of high-speed access but also combine those with the richness that you get from a traditional model. These aren't replacements for Office or Windows but extensions of them. Likewise, this isn't about a retreat from Windows as the core operating system platform.
Overall, this strategy makes sense to me. It's a way for Microsoft to participate in the next generation of Web applications while furthering the reach of its core business for Windows and Office. Look for this extension to continue as we get closer to a real beta of Windows Vista. This move also repositions MSN as a content portal and allows the MSN technologies to tie directly into the Windows brand.
The bottom line is that the new Live strategy is about the fact that Microsoft faces very different challenges today in both the business and consumer markets than it did in the '80s and '90s. A skirmish with Google may seem similar to battles Microsoft fought against the likes of Netscape or Novell, but it's not the same at all. Google has evolved into a verb. When was the last time someone said they were going to "MSN Search" you? Live is a critical strategy to leverage the traditional power of the desktop operating system and applications model and extend it to the next generation of Web technologies. This is only the first phase.
Look for more offerings for small and midsize businesses when Office Live is launched in 2006 and the next version of Office ships. Microsoft's news was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Web-based service offerings. It's time to take a closer look at what Microsoft has done to get a glimpse of where it's going.
Michael Gartenberg is vice president and research director for the Personal Technology & Access and Custom Research groups at JupiterResearch in New York. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.