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This morning, having seen posts by Mark and Dwight, I’ve been playing with some of Windows Live’s new services, and I’ve been left distinctly underwhelmed. I don’t mean to be rude, but I just don’t understand why they bothered with many of the products on offer, when they bring nothing new to the market, and really aren’t very good.
First off, I’m writing this in Windows Live Writer. This is a program which allows me to post things on this blog: Something I’ve done quite successfully without the need for special software 925 time before. What’s more, it doesn’t even seem to aid me in any way that WordPress doesn’t, and in fact in many ways is worse than WordPress. For example, where WordPress gives me an exact representation of how my post will look on the blog at the touch of a button, Windows Live Writer helpfully provides an inaccurate estimate with half of the page cut off. Great.
There are some advantages: I can use Desktop style keyboard shortcuts, like Ctrl-I, instead of using Alt-I which I inevitably forget to do – but it doesn’t bother with standard Microsoft red-squiggle spell-checking, which is one feature which could actually prove useful. Alright, it does allow for posting to multiple blogs, but very few people ever do that. And it does include some handy options when inserting images, like adding shadows (see above) or watermarks, which could be useful for some sites.
Then there’s Windows Live Messenger, which practically everyone on Earth will inevitably continue to refer to as MSN. I’ve just upgraded from the latest MSN release, and can see virtually no difference other than a skin-change. Microsoft is now co-operating with Yahoo, but since I have no-one I want to talk to using this interoperability, it does little more than warm the cockles of my heart with the spirit of friendship and co-operation. What’s the point?
Next? Windows Live Mail. This is a huge improvement on the standard Hotmail interface, but it’s still buggy, clunky, slow, and full of big flashy ad banners to drive you crazy. Gmail’s done it first and done it better, and so have Yahoo with their latest Beta. What’s the point in Microsoft trying to compete using an inferior product?
Then, tying in with that, Windows Live Mail Desktop, possibly the most cumbersomely named piece of software ever to leave Redmond. It’s basically the now unsupported Outlook Express, stripped down a bit and given a God-awful skin which includes large flashy banner ads.
The Windows Live Safety Centre took the best part of three hours to assess my laptop, whilst running it reported that it found five viruses, but then the results page said it hadn’t. So quite what happened there I cannot say. It’s good to see Microsoft taking security seriously, but I did feel that this product wasn’t up to much, either. Though for novice users, perhaps it’s better than nothing at all, and I guess it’s good to have everything in one place, but why on Earth choose a web-based place?
Other components, like the live.com personalised homepage, just seem like copies of things competitors have done, and have done better. But, like with Google’s releases, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of an overall plan here. It seems like a load of “Ooh, Google’s launching this, we better compete” releases cobbled together under the Windows Live brand.
Maybe if I was a Hotmail aficionado with a terrible MSN Spaces blog then I would be excited by these releases. And there’s no doubt that they will be the next ‘big thing’, because Microsoft will ram them down our collective throats until we accept them. But it seems disappointing that a pioneering company like Microsoft can’t produce something better, more worthwhile, and generally more useful, instead of seemingly copying everybody else’s ideas, and copying them badly.