I'll admit, that I've been a skeptic of this whole Live thing. Don't get me wrong, creating seamless end-to-end scenarios for things like photos, music, file sharing, etc., across Internet services and client software is a super smart this for Microsoft to do.
My problem is that it seems like there is a whole lot of hype and noise about Live...this expectations that this is going to be this amazing new thing. It will change your oil, toast your bread, pour your orange juice, it will make dogs love you, women adore you, and men want to be you. I've seen this from Microsoft a few times before. Lot's of bold pronouncements from Bill about "betting the company" and chest thumping from Steve about "billions we're willing to invest." Unfortunately, Microsoft's recent track record living up to the hype has been rather poor.
Let's engage in a little history lesson:
- Longhorn - This release of Windows was supposed to "change the way people think about their PC" and was a "bet the company release." New cutting edge technology like Avalon and WinFS were going to enable incredible user scenarios. Furthermore, this was going to kick-off the "Longhorn wave of innovation" where all the other products within Microsoft, Office, MSN, Business Solutions, would build on top of these great new platform technologies. The end result? A big fact dud. Longhorn has a bunch of security enhancements, a new version of IE (tabbed browsing!!), and some UI enhancements. However, all the change the world stuff promised isn't there. Lot's of potential, even more hype, and the execution just wasn't there.
- .NET - Does anyone remember this? I participating in Forum 2000, an event where Microsoft unveiled their vision of the future of computing to the world. This was story that combined the .NET Frameworks (previous called the Common Language Runtime - still called this internally btw), lots of XML/Soap talk, and Hailstorm. This really was a huge success within the company. Employees who were struggling to understand why Microsoft was relevant and still cool in the Internet had a reason to rejoice...it was a fun time. The problem is that no one outside the company understood what the heck .NET was...all of us excited employees made things worse by naming everything .NET (we had Maps.NET, Notepad.NET, Minesweeper.NET). I recall having a conversation with my buddy Brian Magierski (and now investor in Pluggd) about what .NET was. He couldn't get his head around it...I remember trying to explain it...I got it after all. Only later did it dawn on me that Brian wasn't alone...everyone was confused...and not everyone had some friend in a product group to explain it. In the end, Hailstorm went bye bye, the use of the .NET moniker was dramatically curtailed (we had a web site that explained when you could and couldn't use it). The .NET Frameworks was a success, but the broader vision that this would change the world went unrealized.
- There are a number of similar, lesser known, initiatives that similarly failed to reach their potential. The one I remember the most is "The Business Internet."
Windows Live will be just be the next in line. Much like Longhorn and .NET, it has energized employees. My friends working on Live are excited and there will be some incremental innovation that occurs by this extra punch in employee enthusiasm. However, much of what has been put out there is poorly executed "me too" stuff or just a thin re-branding of existing products.
For example, after years of ignoring Hotmail, we now have Live Mail, which is nothing more than a few incremental features and an Outlook skin. What's the big deal? How does this change the world? It doesn't even catch up with gmail or Yahoo's new email service.
Another example is Live Messenger, the IM client formerly known as MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger. So they change the UI, integrated the FolderShare file sharing app, and included some improved VoIP support (provided by Verizon). Big deal? File sharing has been in MSN Messenger for years, although I will admit that I could never actually get it to work. So I guess getting it to work is the big deal. The ability to make VoIP phone calls has existing in MSN Messenger for years, and before that in products like NetShow. More so what. What Skype did was make this drop dead easy. So when you read an article in Businessweek where MS execs are bragging about shipping tons of new services realize there is a slight of hand. Although there are some new services, e.g. Freemont, that are impressive, the rest are just re-packaged versions of what we've seen for years.
There is absolutely nothing revolutionary going on here...and I see the same old things I did in the past. First, all the folks internal to MS are super excited about Live and believe in it. Most of the people outside of the company are confused as hell over this MSN/Live thing. It is so clear to me looking from the outside in this time around.