Participating in the first UK preview of Windows Live in London last Thursday evening was a worthwhile experience. This event was the first public (ie, to a private group) UK presentation of and discussion about the collection of new internet-based services from Microsoft that are currently in beta testing.
I've not yet directly experienced any of the constituent parts of Windows Live (I'm on the beta sign-up waiting lists) other than pop in now and again to the website portal and play a bit with the Ajax-based customization features where you can add and subtract content that will appear in your personalized page.
Here's a screenshot so you can get an idea:
As I mentioned in conversation at the event, I've not been that impressed with it. Ok, it is a beta, but it's not been anything that has really held my attention or interest other than to note that it's in development and will likely be a big consumer offering once it moves into the more polished and getting-to-final development stages. Still pay attention to what's happening with it, in other words.
What I learned last Thursday is that this view is pretty narrow and barely scratches the surface of what Windows Live is actually all about.
So what is Windows Live? Briefly, it comprises these layered services:
- Live.com - the portal/home page shown in the screenshot above (developer blog)
- Windows Live Mail - the successor to Hotmail (developer blog)
- Windows Live Mobile Search - a personalized search tool for certain smartphones that lets you save those searches on your phone
- Windows Live Messenger - the successor to MSN Messenger (developer blog)
You can read the Microsoft press release from last November for the formal description of Windows Live, and there's a pretty good review by Paul Thurrott that goes into some detail about it all and links to an interesting analysis of the evolution of MSN into Windows Live.
So last Thursday's event in London was worthwhile in providing everyone there (some 30 people plus MSN and the PR agency) with a better focus on the overall offering and where it's at in its development cycle.
That's not the half of it, though.
Listening to the presentation by Phil Holden, the director of Windows Live at Microsoft in Redmond, and chatting with him afterwards, it became pretty clear to me that Microsoft intends to be a very big player in the area of consumer-focused personalized content and information management (to coin a cumbersome and probably not wholly accurate descriptive phrase).
This is a hot area, one where there is already a number of serious players such as Google and Yahoo!, not to mention myriad start-ups and others offering internet-based life-management tools and services in one form or another.
So a lot went on at the Windows Live event, lots of information to absorb. This wasn't the kind of event where NDAs were asked for. Nevertheless, you use your common sense on what you might discuss in a blog, for instance. With that in mind, here are some of my thoughts and impressions about much of what Phil said in his presentation:
- Phil is an expat Brit living in Seattle, been with Microsoft for some 14 years (and describes his job as 'evangelist'). Loves Land Rover Discoveries. Heh! I wonder if he's come across Adrian Melrose's Land Rover Discovery horror story.
- "You're a select group, you'll get access to betas, be the first outside Redmond to see them."
- Microsoft needs to do a better job in listening to customers, Phil said (good idea). My view - an event like this one is an indicator of how they're doing that.
- Events like this one are planned to take place every quarter, more frequently if necessary.
- There are about 4,000 employees in MSN. I reckon that's about 7 percent of all Microsoft employees.
- Over 200,000 people are currently participating in the Windows Live Messenger beta.
- Phil showed a demo of a new classified listing service code-named Windows Live Fremont. (Reminded me a bit of Craigslist but with lots of visual bells and whistles.). On test but only in the US; access permission determined by IP address. Planning to extend testing to big companies in the Seattle area (Phil mentioned as examples Boeing and Starbucks).
- A new Windows Live service will be beta-launched this week - Windows Live Contact.
- Internet telephony (aka VoIP) will be a big part of Windows Live Messenger. This is not the Teleo acquisition Microsoft made last August. Rather, new plans, Phil said. No details as yet. Related - Phil showed off a new USB phone from Philips designed to work with the new Messenger. A significant challenge to Skype, it seems to me.
- Very few questions during the presentation, but lots of conversation afterwards.
As Phil mentioned, one of the benefits you get when you're part of an invited group to an event like this is the opportunity to get fast-tracked through any waiting lists to try things out. So I'm looking forward to actively starting to kick the tyres, etc, of Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Messenger in particular within the next week or so. Once I've played a little, I'll then be in a good position to post some thoughts about the services in action, and some comment on the business potential (even though this is not targeted at businesses).
Just going back to Phil's comment about listening to customers, one thing I did like about Thursday was the idea of connecting all the people there to form a social network and where everyone can connect with each other if they wish and share thinking about the common purpose each of us has as part of this group. We all had nice little button badges with our names on (here's mine) which added to that feeling of belonging. Spelled my name correctly, too (unlike some other software companies I could mention), a little detail which always impresses.
Thursday's UK event was organized by Heaven, Microsoft's PR agency in France (and where Microsoft's European HQ is located), who are doing similar such events in other European countries notably Germany. Well organized and put together. I had the pleasure of meeting two of Heaven's angels, Romain and Nicolas. Nice work, guys!
[Edit:] Just discovered Romain's photos on Flickr of the event.