Microsoft is using the same tactic for its online services that made its Internet Explorer browser ubiquitous among Internet users. With new beta technology, Microsoft is tying its Windows Live services directly to its Windows OS.
A new unified installer for Windows Live services will help users download Wednesday's updates of photo-sharing, mail, instant messaging, online safety and other services, the company said on its Windows Live Wire blog. The new installer also will automatically update those services on Windows Vista and XP.
"This new suite of applications is a new way that we can make connecting, communicating and sharing anywhere a terrific experience on your Windows PC," according to a blog post by Chris Jones, vice president of the Windows Live team at Microsoft. "Together with our Web services, we have a complete suite that combines the best of the Web and the best of Windows, and works the way you want."
As Microsoft tries to catch up to rivals Google and Yahoo in building a portfolio of online services so it can sell more advertising, it's no surprise the company is tying those services to what remains its most popular product, Windows. Most people probably don't need more than one set of free online services just as they don't need more than one browser, and the strength of tying IE to Windows was that people used the browser over Netscape just because it was there.
But what worked for IE may not work so well in the world of Web 2.0, where things move much faster than they did 10 years ago. When Microsoft cut the frequency of IE upgrades and enhancements, customers became restless for a better product; enter the Mozilla Firefox browser two years ago, which now has a nice niche for itself.
Microsoft also is fighting two well-respected and entrenched competitors that started their businesses on the Web and have loyal followings in their own right.
Creating user-friendly Web-based clients for everyday applications is also more complicated than creating a browser, and not so easily commoditised, said Matt Rosoff, analyst with Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Washington. "With Internet services, there is a lot more differentiation possible," he said.
Using the Windows Live unified installer also is still an option -- not a requirement -- of the OS, so the services are not as tightly linked to Windows as IE was, Rosoff said. While he would not be surprised if Microsoft eventually made integration between the OS and Windows Live services even tighter, the company must be wary of inciting the antitrust gods with such a move. "They have to be careful with that sort of thing," Rosoff said.
As well as tying Windows Live to Windows, Microsoft also added features to specific services in this week's beta refreshes. Windows Live Photo Gallery now allows users to share photos directly on its Windows Live Spaces social networking site and its Soapbox on MSN Video video-sharing service, the company said. It also lets people import photos from digital cameras and automatically organise them into events based on date and time within the service.
In other enhancements, Windows Live Messenger 8.5 includes additions to security and performance, while the Windows Live OneCare Family Safety update extends support to its Mail, Messenger and Spaces services.
More information about the updates and the ability to download them is available on Microsoft's Windows Live services Web site.