After months of near silence, Microsoft's Windows Live team is starting to talk about the consumer-facing element of its Software+Services strategy.
On the Windows Live side of the house, Microsoft's S+S story hasn't been very clear. But with its public acknowledgement of two new Windows Live services -- Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Folders -- Microsoft is trying to remedy this lack of information.
On June 27, Microsoft kicked off closed, private betas of Windows Live Photo Gallery, an online photo-sharing service and Windows Live Folders, an online file-storage service that Microsoft initially is limiting to 500 MB per user. To start, each service will be tested by about 5,000 pre-selected beta users, Microsoft officials said. The company is planning to make both new services available to any interested beta tester later this year and to launch the final version of both services in the late fall or early winter, the Softies said.
Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Folders will run on both Windows XP and Windows Vista systems. When Windows Live Photo Gallery is installed on Vista, it will replace the Photo Gallery that ships as an integrated part of the product.
LiveSide.Net, an independent Web site that tracks Microsoft's Live service strategy, unearthed the existence of Windows Live Folders earlier this year. Microsoft's intentions to field a file-storage service, initially code-named LiveDrive (and later, SkyDrive) first came to light more than a year ago. Google is expected to field a similar offering, known as Gdrive.
"I think sharing large files is still extremely niche," said Joseph Laszlo, broadband research director with Jupiter Research. "At the end of the day, Folders mostly competes with online photo sites (like Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Flickr), and online video sharing sites (Youtube, or better yet Motionbox). Consumers don't have tons of very large files yet except for photos and videos (and music), and they tend to share them separately, and generally seem okay as long as viewers can access them easily, even if not in the original, uncompressed format.
For my part, I am interested in more than just Microsoft's acknowledgement that it is continuing to add more Windows Live services to its large and growing family. Brian Hall, the general manager of Windows Live business group, with whom I had a chance to chat, explained how Microsoft is planning to roll out what it's calling "the next generation" of its Windows Live strategy.
Microsoft is attempting to bring some order to Windows Live as it moves forward by being clear that it has a set of core services that are a suite, or family, Hall said. Microsoft is working on a common installer and updater that will work across its Windows Live family, he said. He declined to share a timetable for when Microsoft plans to make this available.
In addition to integrating the Windows Live services with one another, the Windows Live team also is making sure, going forward, that it has both a software and a services component to its Windows Live offerings. In the case of Windows Live Photo Gallery, the software component is the Vista Photo Gallery that ships as part of the operating system, Hall said. In the case of Windows Live Folders, Windows Live Foldershare is the "software."
"In most things with Windows Live going forward, we first will make sure there is a good Web experience," Hall said "Then we'll do a really good job with the Windows experience. Sometimes we will do this fast; sometimes it will be more of a progression.
"Our Foldershare acquisition (in 2005) gave us the PC experience first. Now we're backfilling with a really good Web experience," he explained.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a group of IT professionals attending a Microsoft-sponsored town hall earlier this year that Microsoft is focused on taking its "experiences" and applications and "projecting them into the SaaS world." Think what a PC would look like if it were "PC Live," Ballmer said.
It sounds like the next phase of Windows Live will attempt to do just that. It will be interesting to see if users want to go where (and how) Microsoft wants to take them tomorrow.