November 3, 2005 1:23 PM PST
Windows Live rooted in MSN's past
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Another feature of the new Messenger presented was the ability to share folders with a buddy. The idea is that dragging a file on top of a contact would allow you to create a shared folder. That folder would exist on both members' desktop and stays up-to-date with any changes to the file. While that capability was built in-house, Microsoft said Thursday morning that it is buying another service, called FolderShare, to assist in its Windows Live efforts.
Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft
The new Messenger should be available in beta form by December, Microsoft said.
On the mail side, Microsoft has been showing the improved Web mail program, code-named Kahuna, for some time. However, the name change here is a big deal given the widespread recognition of the Hotmail moniker. Still, Microsoft doesn't plan to force people to change their existing hotmail.com e-mail addresses.
Another service demonstrated, but not yet available, is Windows Live Local. In his presentation, MSN vice president Blake Irving outlined a local search service that included elements of Microsoft's Virtual Earth mapping. Eventually, the company could add tools that enable members or their buddies to create annotations, creating a personalized map of their favorite spots in the city.
Microsoft also showed off a preview of a mobile search tool as part of a mobile version of Windows Live. With the service, Microsoft is aiming to have a compact Web search page that can find a nearby restaurant or gas station. It will be viewable via both Windows Mobile devices and ordinary cell phones that have a Web browser. The tool is not yet available, but should be in beta "soon," Microsoft said in a posting on its Web site.
Channeling the spirit of Hailstorm
The whole point of launching Windows Live even with some rough edges, Microsoft insisted, is to get a sense of what it is that people want. The company is also banking on its ability to rapidly update and improve its services, following the model of MSN, Google and Yahoo.
"A lot of people are characterizing this as a response to Google, and in some ways, maybe it is," Rosoff said.
But the analyst also noted that the notion of delivering software as a service is a company approach that predates Microsoft's rivalry with Google.
"The idea of moving to online services has been kicking around Microsoft for a long time," he said. Indeed, Microsoft had a companywide meeting in the late 1990s at which top executives outlined plans to deliver all manner of software as a service.
"Like many things around the Internet that were predicted to happen quickly, they're not wrong, they're simply things that take more time," Gates said in a March interview.
Back in 2001, Microsoft developed what it called .Net My Services, better known by its code name "Hailstorm," that was intended to offer many services now on the agenda for Windows Live. For instance, Hailstorm would have created a "myDocuments" service for sharing files and personalization tools like "myProfile" and "myDevices."
In all, Hailstorm, which Microsoft shelved in 2002 due to privacy concerns and weak partner support, would have defined more than a dozen such services, according to documentation distributed at the time.
"Since then many, many things have happened," said Ray Ozzie, the Microsoft Chief Technical Officer who has been put in charge of the company's overall services push.
Rosoff said that Microsoft was, in many ways, ahead of the game when it first considered the notion. "The business model wasn't there. There were still some technology barriers as well."
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