Microsoft's New Web-Based Services

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates speaks at a Microsoft announcement in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2005. Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced online enhancements to its Windows operating system and other popular software programs, hoping to defuse a growing threat from Google Inc. and other fast-moving challengers. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Bill Gates came to San Francisco Tuesday to announce what he called the "live era" of software. Speaking to reporters, Gates and other Microsoft executives announced new products and services as well as a slight change in Microsoft's strategic direction.

While the company has no intentions to abandon its lucrative desktop software franchise, Gates is setting Microsoft on a course to offer more Internet-based services and to more tightly integrate the Internet into existing and future desktop applications including Microsoft Office.

The announcement was really a three-parter, although the first one wasn't an announcement at all. Gates spent a fair amount of time reminding those present that Microsoft has long been committed to use the Internet to keep its software up-to-date. To that end, Microsoft's existing software is already quite "live." Windows, Office and other Microsoft programs have long been able to use the Internet to update themselves with fixes and new features but so have the products from most of Microsoft's competitors. We're past the day when companies have to send out discs to update software.

The next part has to do with Microsoft's new consumer online push which it's calling "Windows Live." Although named for the flagship operating system, Windows Live is really a series of web-based services that don't necessarily even require the user to have Microsoft Windows. Eventually, the idea is to provide information and services to users of any Internet connected device including PCs, personal digital assistants and smart cell phones.

Click here for Larry Magid's podcast on Gates' announcement

The first (beta) iteration of Windows Live is now available at The website, which currently works only with Windows Internet Explorer — support for Firefox and other browsers is forthcoming — has a search engine like Google, access to news and information services like Yahoo and MSN but one more thing — a great deal of customization. When you first visit the site you see a sidebar with headings such as "My Web," and "Gadgets" as well as information categories including Business, Entertainment, Health News, Science & Tech and Sports.