Microsoft Live may be a dangerous move

Microsoft Live has little room for alternative lifestyles, a point the company makes with disturbing frankness

News stories have a basic formula of five W's — tell the reader who, what, when, where and why. When it comes to writing about Microsoft Live, the first W is easy. Forget industry consortia, partnerships or cross-company agreements: this is Microsoft and nothing but.

It then gets harder. What is Microsoft Live, exactly? If you look at the beta Web site, it's a mildly customisable portal that knows a bit about RSS and is nigh identical to another Microsoft initiative that has slumbered unnoticed on the Web for around a year. The rest is Windows Live, which is largely MSN services rebranded and "user-centered", and Office Live, which isn't Office.

Is it on-demand services? Microsoft Live's platform manager Charles Fitzgerald doesn't like that term. "I don't know whether they are talking about the crazy, IBM approach... Then my cable company talks about on-demand, when I can get video on-demand. It's not a super-useful term for me." Nobody else in the industry has a problem with it but in the Microsoft Live world, there is nobody else in the industry.

Or is there? Bill Gates says that Live's not about "running Windows or Office", but when he showed a picture of the Microsoft vision for Live, 'other devices' consisted of an antiquated Macintosh and last year's Blackberry cowering in a tiny corner under an assault of "Microsoft-based Devices". Fitzgerald is even more dismissive: "There are other classes of devices that aren't running Windows software, tragically..." and open source is "largely irrelevant". On the other hand, "... the footprint of what people think of as Office is just going to grow and grow." At least that takes care of the "why".

When and where — well, with Microsoft the when can be hard to pin down. "Shortly" in the case of Windows Live and "early next year" for Office Live. Where? Online, of course.

You remember online. It's that place where Yahoo and Google and and all the rest have been offering products and portals and, yes, on-demand services, without calling your choices tragic or largely irrelevant or crazy. You may care to keep it that way.

It's the place where you get to decide who, what, why, when and where — and if you don't choose to swallow the entire Live story whole, it's the place where the news for Microsoft may not be a story it wants to hear.