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Windows Live: What’s the point?

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.

This post was filed under: Reviews, Technology.

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Comments and responses

Comment from Darren Straight

    14.20, 14/08/2006

I frequently searh for people who don’t get Windows Live, so as I’m here I’ll ask you one of my many questions I ask people:

What would you like to see improved?

Best Regards,
Darren Straight

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    16.39, 14/08/2006

Hi Darren,

The problem isn’t so much that something specific needs improving. It’s that I don’t understand the point of the services. For example, Google’s suite of services offers the ability to better sort information, whether it be through search, through organising email, or through calendar. The Windows Live services appear so disparate and half-baked that there’s no commonality, and no unique spin on doing things differently.

The Windows Live philosophy, according to the site, is that “Your online world gets better when everything works simply and effortlessly together.” The provided solution appears to be that Microsoft should provide everything. In a world with an ever-increasing number of talented programmers working for an ever-increasing number of upstarts, the model where Microsoft pulls everything together no longer holds.

Instead of focusing on getting me to read my Hotmail through a desktop reader, Microsoft would be better served working out ways to serve my Hotmail wherever the heck I want it without losing the ability to make a profit. Again, look at Google: I can access my Gmail through their preferred Website, or else through POP3, IMAP, or even RSS. It’s open, free, and I can access it through whatever means I as an individual want. Microsoft want to pigeonhole me into one of their restrictive product choices because that’s the business model on which Microsoft operates. It needs to get with the times and reassess the direction in which it’s travelling.

None of the products on the Windows Live site has a killer function that makes it a must-have. Everything is done better elsewhere, and I’m not willing to sacrifice the quality of the overall product for a Microsoft promise of interoperability, when that’s the direction that whole web’s headed in anyway – except, perhaps, Microsoft.

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