Windows Live is dead

Bill Gates introducing Windows Live in 2005

Photo by niallkennedy

Seven years ago in this space, I noted the rollout of a big new branding effort from Microsoft, called “Live,” and asked what the hell it was actually about:

[I]t’s a mixed bag. What does that mean for the future of “Live”? The best place to look for analogies is probably the launch in 2000 of the Last Big Thing from Microsoft: .NET. The “Live” launch actually reminds me a lot of that. When .NET was first revealed, Microsoft went crazy trying to shove everything they did under the .NET umbrella. Windows became Windows.NET. Office became Office.NET. Their various server packages became .NET Servers. I imagined them frantically renaming all the streets in Redmond — “Main Street.NET” — to fit the pattern.

The problem was that the vast majority of these changes were purely cosmetic. Windows, Office, the servers, etc. weren’t being radically rewritten; they were just being rebranded. When you cut through the .NET hype, the actual technical accomplishments you found were more modest: a new runtime environment and API for building Windows applications, a new language (C#) hosted in that environment, and a few other things. The rest was hot air, which Joel Spolsky noted at the time

.NET was not the Year Zero event that it was made out to be at launch. It was not a revolution for Microsoft; it was an evolution — and by overhyping it, they confused their customers, who couldn’t tell what was real and what was puffery in .NET. Eventually MS dropped the .NET hype, the products that had no real connection to .NET quietly went back to their old names (notice how the upcoming new version of Windows is not “Windows.NET Vista”), and .NET found its place in the market.

I imagine we’ll see something similar happen with “Live”: it’ll be another evolution in the Microsoft platform. The bits that are inspired will put down roots, the bits that aren’t, won’t. And eventually Microsoft will have to sharpen its definition of what “Live” is and pare back the bajillion other projects that are now confusing the brand.

(That post ended up getting quoted by Joel Spolsky, which was nice.)

Here we are, seven years later, and all that time Microsoft has been going through the process I predicted they would — trying to figure out what the “Live” brand should actually mean to their customers. Various products bearing the “Live” moniker have come and gone, but the definition of what “Live” itself is never really came into focus.

So it’s not really a big surprise to hear now that Microsoft has given up on it:

With the new version of Windows, many of the Windows Live products and services that had been packaged separately will be installed as a part of the operating system. “There is no ‘separate brand’ to think about or a separate service to install,” Mr. Jones wrote.

Most important, Windows 8 customers will be free to substitute non-Microsoft products and services in place of the re-branded Windows Live successors. “You’re welcome to mix and match them with the software and services you choose,” he says.

“Windows Live” is disappearing.

The whole “Live” story — from muddled conception, to haphazard deployment, to quiet abandonment — has played out in a pattern depressingly similar to other Microsoft efforts of the last ten years. Microsoft has shipped a lot of products over that time, but nothing really seems to tie them all together; there’s no grand vision at the heart of the company’s work anymore, unlike competitors such as Apple and Google. The products they ship range from the excellent (Windows 7, XBox) to the OK-but-not-quite-great (Windows Phone,  Bing) to the downright embarrassing (Windows Vista, Microsoft Kin). But try and think of a philosophical through-line that ties all those products together; you can’t. That’s a major, major problem.

Microsoft has (finally) started to unify the interfaces of all these different systems with their Metro design language, which helps unify their identities somewhat, but a visual identity standard is not a product vision. Windows 8, with its shift of focus away from the traditional Windows application towards simpler “Metro-style” applications that feel more like phone and tablet apps than desktop apps, may start to bring some of that vision back, who knows. But I’m skeptical that One True Interface can be devised that works as well on a 4″ phone display as it does on a 22″ desktop monitor (or a 50″ HDTV). We’ll see.

The biggest problem Microsoft has, I think, is that there is nothing they’re working on these days that makes a person like me look at them and think “damn, I wish I was working in their ecosystem.” I used to be a Windows developer; that should make me a primary target to become one again. But I feel very little reason to want to do so. If I were going to branch out of the open-source Web ecosystem, it’d probably be to learn Android, or even Objective-C for iPhone development, before returning to Windows. There’s just nothing exciting about Windows these days — not even the promise of access to a vast audience of potential customers, since the momentum on that score has shifted to the iOS world.

Of course, Microsoft is huge and sitting on an enormous pile of cash, so they could just keep on muddling through for quite a long time. I hope they don’t, though. I hope they get their mojo back. Because we need them, if only to prevent the future from being an Apple/Google duopoly.

UPDATE (July 5): Another “we never figured out what it meant, exactly” Microsoft brand bites the dust — Zune.



May 28, 2012
12:24 am

Microsoft has a real cultural problem in their marketing department. They continually made bad naming choices. They keep trying to fit all their products under the latest buzzword or creating long and complicated names. It is amazing they managed to ship XBox without their naming division insisting the rename it to Microsoft Windows Play System 2.0 SP1.


May 28, 2012
3:20 am

All windows live ever was was a bunch of crappy websites with clouds at the top to match Windows XP’s vomit inducing default wallpaper.

Windows Live was not just bad marketing it represented the stagnation and arrogance of Microsoft in not trying to build products that any would or should care about.

I wish the Seattlites luck. I havent used a PC in years and I have no plans to…ever.

Thomas Borowski

May 28, 2012
3:32 am

Somehow “live” reminds me of the “i” in Apple products. That used to mean “internet”, now it doesn’t mean anything anymore.


May 28, 2012
7:50 am

I really don’t care what microsoft is trying to achieve with the new. I like the name live, i bet they fired all the good marketing companies.

I’m really pissed that they don’t stick enough smart people to anything outside windows, xbox and office.

As you said in your article, real people hate cosmetic surgery and that is what metro is at the moment. It really feels like no serious thought has been given to the new platform apart from “…want to kick Apple right in the nuts”.

I like the Micro boys but when they keep messing up…
Anyways, thanks for the article, i shouldn’t be ranting here.


May 28, 2012
9:30 am

This whole thing about an Apple/Google duopoly seems to be prevalent among the kinds of people who do things like read and write technology blogs. If you live in that world, I suppose it’s easy to get swept away and forget about the real world and say totally nonsensical things like suggesting that iOS does or is poised to have a larger user base than Windows.

On Friday, I woke up and checked my email on an Ubuntu/Windows 7 desktop computer. I put my XP laptop in my bag and drove to work, where I used Excel running on my office PC with XP all day. Then I picked up my wife from work, where she had been using proprietary software on Windows 7, and took her to the college library, where she found a seat at one of their hundred or so XP computers to write a paper with Word. That evening, we watched some recorded TV shows with our HTPC, which runs XBMC on Arch Linux, while our 1st grade daughter played Flash games in Firefox on the XP desktop I set up to keep her off of my computers.

Today, I have to visit both my parents and hers. Mine have a desktop and laptop with XP as well as a work laptop with SLAX and an iPhone. Her parents and sibilings together have a desktop and three laptops–all running Windows 7–and a Symbian phone. Everyone else has some kind of generic camera phone.

I just don’t see it. Google is everywhere of course, but I don’t know anyone who uses Chrome or an Android phone. People sure talk about Apple a lot, and people with iPhones sometimes walk into me on the sidewalk, but Microsoft products actually are everywhere and no one talks about them because they’re so familiar.

Fernando Correia

May 28, 2012
10:10 am

A lot of good points here. But I feel most articles about Microsoft’s offering miss the greater point by just focusing on the markets where there is overlap with Apple’s or Google’s offers. Microsoft’s largest market are companies. I think this article is incomplete without reference to recent or upcoming developments such as SQL Server 2012 (including the new BI capabilities), System Center 2012, Windows Server 2012, the Hyper-V 3.0, Dynamics AX 2012 and the large set of services on the Windows Azure platform, to name a few.


May 28, 2012
9:39 pm

It takes a while for a glacier to melt. If MS did nothing new for the next 10 years, theyd still have a majority share in operating systems – the hardware companies dependent on Windows are doing all the marketing work for them, all they have to do is sit back and collect the money.

Corporations are a huge opportunity right now – this is a market that is huge, that MS is losing thanks to decades of garbage product, and that is up for grabs. It wont be Google or Apple taking this market though Apple will probably supply the hardware. But I think the corproate world will wake up to the fact that a flexible guerilla corproate stack is much cheaper and much more efficient than the monolithic Microsoft stack.

Id invest in companies that do software like basecamp, pivotal, etc… Maybe somebody is going to kill the office stack too…


May 28, 2012
11:38 pm

@bob You are using a PC right now. Remember, PC means personal computer. Just thought I’d point that out.


May 29, 2012
8:06 am

@Fernando: The reason some people don’t include MS’s announced next big thing is because quite often

a) it was effectively vaporware when announced
b) it's not delivered on time
c) what is delivered is shadow of what was promised.

Microsoft also suffers from a performance handicap, namely that anything running on a Windows Server pretty much will run faster on a *nix server, or so many perceive to be the case, myself included, in many cases with proof – I do enterprise systems, generally on larger scales, and we do not use nor recommend Windows for anything. Management and maintenance are another area where MS fails in comparison to *nix. The ability to completely automate deployments and monitoring with a few lines of script while running seamlessly through SSH beat the GUI version of MS any day.


May 29, 2012
9:46 am

So, to recap:

* Vista shipped with various “productivity apps” built-in;

* 7 removed these apps from the OS, and we were told to download the “Live Suite” equivalents;

* 8 removes the “Live Suite”, and ships with these apps built-in;

WTF?! 8|


May 29, 2012
12:06 pm

The real reason Microsoft split some features from Windows and shipped them as ‘Live’ is because of the DOJ ruling. They couldn’t bundle apps such as email in Windows without going through a lot of pain. Now that they are no longer restricted by the DOJ settlement, they can move the apps back into Windows.


May 30, 2012
4:34 am