Microsoft unveils Web-based software

Ad-driven services to vie with Google, Yahoo

November 02, 2005|By COX NEWS SERVICE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft Corp., left in the dust in the early days of the Internet search and advertising business, fought back yesterday with a vengeance.

The world's biggest software company unveiled two new Web-based, advertising-driven software platforms designed to help it catch up with the likes of Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. in a world where the Internet is becoming increasingly important.

With Microsoft's new Windows Live software, users can search the Internet for topics that interest them - streaming music from a favorite band, news from a local newspaper, photos and video - to create their own personalized, constantly updated Web portal. They also can add new messaging and e-mail programs from Microsoft as well as other applications.

Microsoft's Office Live platform promises to let small business users create for free a company Web site and corporate e-mail accounts - if they're willing to put up with the online advertising that comes with it. Office Live users can also share files and collaborate with partners in real time online and, if they pay a subscription fee, get access to more than 20 other new applications.

Both Windows Live and Office Live are linked to Microsoft Ad Center, a new system that, like Google and Yahoo, displays advertising related to every Internet search they make.

The new software platforms are designed to work interchangeably with computers, cell phones and other portable computing devices, many of which are already powered by Microsoft.

That would let users access news or personal information no matter where they are.

Parts of the free Windows Live platform were made available on the Internet yesterday for both Windows and Apple users. Other portions will be available in coming months.

The free Office Live platform is scheduled to be available early next year.

In many ways, the new software platforms incorporate other Microsoft offerings and are not unlike existing Microsoft offerings, such as MSN or its Live Meeting software for businesses.

But yesterday's announcements mark a significant change by Microsoft to tie itself more closely to the Internet and find new ways to become more relevant to individual users.

"There are elements of this that we and others have been doing for a number of years," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said in unveiling the "Live" push to reporters and analysts here. "But making this the centerpiece, making it the way we think through the experiences with all the devices and rich services ... that is a big change."

Gates didn't mention Google specifically in connection with the company's new offerings.

But it's clear that Microsoft is relying on the new services to battle the Internet juggernaut, which along with becoming the Web's dominant search engine has indicated it might get into everything from television to the business of Web-based office programs that Microsoft currently rules.

"Instead of shooting with the bow gun [at Google and Yahoo], Microsoft is essentially swinging the battleship around and now firing broadsides," said independent technology analyst Rob Enderle.

Google and others, Enderle said, clearly have more reason to worry.

"Microsoft has gotten focused," he said. "And when Microsoft gets focused, they get dangerous."

In a quick counterpunch, Google disclosed yesterday that it is stepping up its support of Open Office, an initiative led by Microsoft rival Sun Microsystems Inc. that lets users get spreadsheet, word processing and other programs for free. Last month, Google and Sun announced a wide-ranging collaboration agreement.

Gates and others at Microsoft have acknowledged that they fell behind Google and others in Internet search, advertising and other technologies.

Yesterday's announcements are clear that it is now planning to do more to defend its franchise, said Van Baker, an analyst with technology research firm Gartner Inc.

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