Microsoft Goes Live with Portal Plans

Microsoft is taking online applications like instant messaging, blog hosting and Web-based email out of MSN and into a new ad-supported offering called Windows Live. MSN will continue as a programmed content network with links to the Windows Live services.

“MSN reaches a powerful audience; Windows Live will extend our advertiser offering under the brand of Microsoft Windows…. It will assist in unifying consumers’ information, interests and relationships though an initial offering of email, messenger, search, and other services,” wrote MSN Media Chief Revenue Officer Joanne Bradford in a letter to advertisers. “With Windows Live, and MSN, we are creating an array of powerful new advertising opportunities to reach our engaged consumers.”

The move follows Microsoft’s September reorganization that brought MSN under the same umbrella as Windows. is the production name of Microsoft’s, a project which has been in development for the past nine months, according to the new Windows Live blog.

At the heart of Windows Live is the hub, a fully customizable start page which uses RSS and AJAX to connect users to the various services. Windows Live Messenger will bring IM, file and photo sharing, and PC-based calling of MSN Messenger to the platform. Windows Live Mail is a new Web-based email service designed to be faster, safer, and simpler than Hotmail, which it is replacing.

Windows Live adds some new services as well, providing a free on-demand virus scanning and removal tool; a subscription-based “PC health” service with anti-virus, firewall, PC maintenance, and data backup and restore capabilities; and a service to let users access Internet Explorer favorites from multiple PCs.

Windows Live will primarily be free to users and supported by advertising, with some subscription and transaction-based services also available. It will add inventory that will be managed by MSN’s adCenter platform, which launched in France and Singapore in September, and is in a pilot stage in the U.S. The company has hinted that adCenter could be used to serve ads into Web-based applications in the past, along with ads on Web sites and in interactive TV.

At the time, MSN SVP Yusuf Mehdi said, “Advertising is no longer an MSN effort. It’s a Microsoft effort. [We will] bring advertising into all of our experiences, whether it’s a Windows experience or an Office experience.” Mehdi mentioned platforms such as Microsoft TV, Xbox 360 and phones as other likely targets to display advertising.

Microsoft also previewed Office Live and Xbox Live Tuesday — initiating a company-wide focus on new delivery and business models for its software. Office Live is expected to launch as an invitation-only beta in early 2006.

“Our dream is to deliver a seamless experience where all the technology in your life and business comes together in a way that ‘just works’ for you,” said Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief technical officer. “Seamless experiences put people and the things they want to accomplish at the center, with technology easily and transparently connecting them to the people, devices and information that matter most.”

Office Live, a set of Web-based services designed to integrate with its offline Office applications, offers small businesses Web and email hosting, along with subscription-based access to more than 20 hosted business applications. Tasks addressed by initial Office Live applications include project management, sales and collateral management, customer management, expense reports, time and billing management, and secure internal and external collaboration.

The service is comparable to the rumored offering that Google and Sun were expected to announce last month, if not the reality. The two were widely rumored to be developing a hosted office suite, based on Sun’s open source productivity suite, and distributed by Google. The announced news was much less earth-shattering — a partnership where Sun would distribute Google’s toolbar with its Java Runtime Environment downloads and hints that they would begin to “explore opportunities to promote and enhance Sun technologies” including OpenOffice.

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