RealTime IT News

Whose Web is it Anyway?

BOSTON -- Microsoft   wants to keep pace with Web 2.0 without driving its Windows platform into irrelevance.

George Moore, general manager of the Windows Live platform, told developers at Microsoft's Tech Ed 2006 conference here that Windows Live leverages the social-networking aspect of the Web to create a cycle that will benefit users, developers, advertisers, and of course, Microsoft itself.

Analysts believe that this approach is a reaction to the growing concern among Redmond executives that a variety of browser-based solutions, ranging from proprietary platforms like Salesforce.com's AppExchange to free programs offered by Google, may lure users away from the desktop applications upon which it has built its empire.

In what may be a telling admission as to the degree of Microsoft's concern, Moore told internetnews.com that this type of openness is unprecedented at the Redmond-based behemoth.

"The primary shift is that we're opening up the APIs   to anyone," Moore said. "Before, you had to have a pre-existing relationship with Microsoft. Now, we're opening the platform and offering a rich number of SDKs  ."

The aspect of Windows Live that Microsoft is pitching to developers offers them free access to code for developing gadgets (which the rest of the world calls widgets  ), bots  , and mash-ups  .

This way, goes the company's thinking, developers can create the sort of interactive tools available via the Web without having to switch platforms.

And it is also providing a more customizable experience for consumers who want more control over their online experience.

The company has a solid base to build upon, with 240 million registered Windows Live users to date, according to the company.

And according to Laurie McCabe, vice president with AMI-Partners, a New York-based consultancy, the company has registered over 90,000 developer users since it launched its beta of Office Live in November 2005.

What Microsoft is shooting for, said McCabe, is "a seamless, blended model of desktop and client and on-line services."

But, she said, "it's not a slam dunk."

Make no mistake, though. Microsoft is opening up because it has to, not because it wants to.

"Office Live is part of what Microsoft has to do as the Web evolves," noted McCabe. "If Microsoft doesn't keep pace, it reduces the whole need for the Windows infrastructure."

But ironically, success in this arena could also spell trouble for the company, JupiterResearch analyst Joe Wilcox told internetnews.com.

By helping users dress up a fairly staid Windows XP (released in 2001, or ages ago in Internet time) with widgets, bots, and mash-ups, it may also be providing its customers with a reason to delay migrating to a spate of Windows products due out later this year and next.

"The challenge for Microsoft is how to embrace this extensibility without eating its young, which is Windows Vista," Wilcox said.

Moore told developers that Windows Live will provide companies with an opportunity to become part of its customers' trusted inner circle by engaging them in familiar ways, such as through Windows Messenger Live, which was made public in May.

Microsoft has created bits of code developers can use to help their companies create relationships with users through the use of widgets and bots operating within the Windows Live Messenger window.

"You can run a program through the Messenger window and your business can interact more richly with consumers," said Moore.

Moore added that this will not become the online version of spam; customers will have to accept business' bots or widgets as "contacts" and initiate each conversation before any interaction occurs.

"The consumer will always maintain control," he said.

Other bits of code made available allow custom mash-ups, such as the one on JohnLScott.com, a real estate site that integrates Virtual Earth with property listings.

Consumers can have a birds' eye view of properties and surrounding areas before deciding whether to initiate a visit.

According to Microsoft, the realtor said online visits increased by 30 percent and agents went on fewer "wild goose chases" because consumers had effectively pre-screened their choices.