Microsoft Live may open gates to desktop ads

Redmond adopts new role as systems integrator, while Amazon Mechanical Turk kicks off 'Webshoring'

I saw Real Networks’ CEO Rob Glaser on stage this week at a high-tech gadgets preview and had a flashback to his company’s nightmarish RealPlayer  -- the most advertising-laden, nagging, hard-to-uninstall piece of software ever to grace my desktop (except for that flash-in-the-pan PointCast).

This memory struck me the same week that Microsoft, getting lathered up about Google, previewed its next-generation, Web-based, ad-supported set of services dubbed Office Live and Windows Live. These services, initially targeted at consumers and small businesses, will include things such as calendar management, information management, and solutions implemented on Windows SharePoint services.

I immediately thought: Don’t do it, Microsoft! I don’t want ads mucking up my Office or Outlook. I don’t want a zillion plug-ins and add-ons nickel-and-diming me at every turn. I don’t want to relive that RealPlayer experience again. Remember one thing, Ray Ozzie: Google is succeeding because it helps us cut through the clutter, not because it delivers more clutter.

How will enterprises take to Microsoft Live? Gartner’s first reaction, in a Nov. 4 news analysis, was to predict that Microsoft will face an uphill battle because enterprises are wary of accepting software automatically downloaded from the Internet or that contains advertising, and also “may not be comfortable with Microsoft adopting the role of their systems integrator.”

Gartner continued, however, by saying that “these prejudices are short-sighted and will inhibit enterprises from benefiting from software delivered as services.” So keep a close eye on how Microsoft decides to leverage technologies such as AJAX along with its Windows and Vista rich-clients.

And now … Webshoring: In one of the more bizarre beta tests I’ve ever seen on the Web, Amazon has launched something called Amazon Mechanical Turk. In a nutshell, you can go to the site and perform trivial tasks for Amazon that humans can do better than computers  -- like identifying photos  -- and get paid by the task for doing it. In other words, digital piecework.

I gave it a try and performed six HITs (human intelligence tasks). Each, if approved, will pay three cents into my Amazon account. By my crude reckoning, if I get paid for all six, I’d be making about $3.60 an hour (pre-tax). What fascinates me  -- aside from the creativity on display here and the fact that this is technically less than minimum wage  -- is that Amazon has figured out how to take the outsourcing trend to its ultimate extreme, which I’ll call Webshoring. It doesn’t have to care which country the worker is in, as long as the work gets done and there is no management overhead. Wow.