Microsoft Turns Web 2.0

Today in San Francisco Microsoft Founder and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, along with Microsoft Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie unveiled two new web based services: Windows Live and Office Live.

These powerful web based software tools will bring a suite of web services to both individuals seeking to organize their digital life as well as small businesses looking to use web based services to enhance their business.

I was most impressed by Windows Live. Windows Live will include storage, communications, identity, relationships, advertising, billing and payment. It will incorporate websites, workspaces, RSS, forms and views, messaging, calendaring and libraries.

Blake Irving, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft gave a demo of Windows
and I have to say, I was mighty impressed (despite the fact that he had lots of the technical kind of snafus that only happen of course when you are presenting in front of a lot of people). Think of Windows Live (which is up and running now in beta at the link above) as kind of a like a My Yahoo! — but on steroids. Perhaps most impressive to me was the ease at which RSS is integrated into the site. Basically you just use Windows Live to do a search on any subject and in addition to web search and blog search you have an option to search RSS. All of the known RSS feeds associated with a search term come up and you can easily subscribe simply by dragging the feed over on to your personal Windows Live Page. Impressive.

Windows Live represents the strongest offering I’ve seen yet with the potential to roll RSS out to the masses. Everything on Windows Live revolves around a simple drag and drop page layout. You can even bring in other Web 2.0 services like Flickr photos, etc.

There were so many new Web 2.0 type services incorporated into Windows Live that I had a hard time keeping up. Windows Live has a super cool photo sharing simple drag and drop folder where I can drag photos online and then have anyone I give permission to the ability to access this folder over the internet. Although photo sharing is nothing new, the ease at with a simple drag and drop folder based system worked was impressive. This will be a great way for families to stay in touch. Microsoft also demoed powerful new social networking tools whereby through Windows Live I could see my contacts (and their contacts) and even pass on contact and other information in a permission based environment.

Also demoed was Windows Live Local which is kind of a cross between Google Maps and Yahoo! Local. This service is supposed to be available later this month but the mapping software that I say was better than anything I’ve seen from Google yet, including a feature called birds eye view, which rather than only letting you see an overhead satellite shot, actually brings you in at an angle to see a much clearer shot of what you are looking for.

According to Gates, it is important to note that these web services “don’t replace Windows or Office,” but rather complement it. Windows Live and Office Live will be online services mostly free and primarily ad supported. The services will be able to connect up to any device that has a browser, including even Apple’s Macintosh, according to Gates.

As part of the event Microsoft Executive Producer Jeff Henshaw also gave a live demo of the Xbox 360 by playing Major Nelson live from Redmond. The demo was pretty impressive. With a headset on Jeff was able to voice chat live with Major Nelson as he raced against him in Project Gotham racing. Although I saw this same game demoed at the MTV Launch, I have to say it was even more impressive live. Even the spectators of the race react as the car bumps into the side rails. According to Jeff, the North American Launch for Xbox 360 will be November 22nd.

Executive Producer Jeff Henshaw gave an XBox Live demo on the new XBox 360 with Microsoft’s Major Nelson

Enhancing the Xbox Live functionality of Xbox 360 seems to be key to the product. According to Henshaw, two million users are currently connected to today’s Xbox Live and they’ve racked up over 200 million hours of online gaming together. The demo did a great job of showing how people a thousand miles away could race each other online and talk to each other while they did it.

They didn’t really mention the XBox’s potential as a Media Center extender unit, but they did showcase the music and photos feature. They also talked about Online Marketplace where hardcore users can buy everything from new coats of paint for their cars to new tattoos for their online characters.

As I am more interested in personal digital technology than business technology Office Live was of less interest to me. I was probably most impressed though with a demo where a small business free online website (with custom domain) was built in about five minutes. Microsoft plans on offering free custom domain sites and email with this service initially.

Update: CrunchNotes has more here. BusinessWeek Online comments here. Todd Bishop for the Seattle PI posts here. Michael Gartenberg offers his thoughts here.

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