Windows Live's demise creates Windows 8 problems

Unless the Metro apps turn out to be a lot more powerful than what's on offer right now, Windows 8 will be an even harder sell

As I anticipated two months ago, Microsoft officially sent Windows Live to the bit bucket yesterday. We're supposed to believe that the 'Softies are unifying their cloud services and lining them up under the "Microsoft Account" banner, but that's a whole lot easier said than done. Or explained. In particular, users are going to lose a lot in the transition from Windows Live to cloud-friendly Windows RT Metro apps, and there are lots of legacy loose ends.

To see where we're headed, let's take a look at where we've been.

The term "Windows Live" has never been anything but a marketing gimmick -- at times an embarrassing one at that. Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie announced the package in 2005 as a euphemism -- er, upgrade -- for "MSN" online apps. It contained the log-in credential handler (formerly known as Hotmail ID, Microsoft Wallet, MS Passport, .Net Passport, MS Passport Network, then Windows Live ID), Hotmail (which has been rebranded so many times, I think I need to take off my shoes to count 'em all), Messenger, Windows Live Search (say, "Bing"), Safety Center (online malware scanner), OneCare (subscription-based malware package), and Favorites (sharing Internet Explorer Favorites across machines).

Windows Live grew by leaps and bounds, and over its lifetime came to encompass about 100 different client programs and websites/services, ranging from groundbreaking (Windows Live Mesh) to glorified bug fixes (Windows Live Outlook Connector).

Steve Sinofsky moved to the Windows Division in 2006, then took over as head of the division (now the Windows and Windows Live Division) in July 2009. He was the key driving force behind Windows Live Essentials 2009 Wave 3. When Sinofsky's most visible product, Windows 7, shipped in July 2009, it didn't have native applications for mail, calendar, messenger, or photos. Instead, Windows 7 users were prompted to download and install Windows Live Essentials.

Some observers (present company included) noted at the time how removing those features from Windows 7 and putting them in downloadable form made it much easier to get Windows 7 stable and out the door. Microsoft essentially gave itself an extra three to four months of breathing room to get the Windows Live Essential apps working, without holding up or bogging down the release of Windows 7. Being able to update the WLE programs asynchronously with Windows itself would let Microsoft keep up in the feature race with popular competitors.

Right now, Windows Live contains 12 online destinations/services -- Admin Center (email hosting), Calendar, Contacts, Devices (connecting with mobile devices), Groups, Home (metasite), Hotmail, ID, Plug-ins (for Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, and Writer), Profile, Service Status, SkyDrive -- and eight client-side "Windows Live Essential" apps -- Family Safety, Mail, Mesh, Messenger, Messenger Companion, Movie Maker, Photo Gallery, and Writer. Officially, WLE also includes the Bing Bar, Outlook Hotmail Connector, and Silverlight. There are also apps for Windows Phones.

We're seeing the same strategy being played out this time, but in a different way. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview includes a handful of Metro-style apps -- Calendar, Mail, Messaging, People, Photos, SkyDrive -- whose names suggest they map directly onto Windows Live Essentials apps. The Metro apps we've seen so far with those names have very few features -- they don't even come close to their Windows Live Essentials counterparts. Then again, Microsoft has branded each of them as an "App Preview."

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