SAN FRANCISCO - As widely expected, Microsoft Corp. Tuesday unveiled its software-as-a-service strategy, an effort to provide a more seamless connection between customers and their business and personal data by offering a range of services accessed over the Web by various devices.
Calling the plan "Live Software," Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates also unveiled new services for both Microsoft Windows OS and Office productivity suite, respectively called Windows Live and Office Live, that provide Web-based services separate from the software products to Microsoft customers. Speaking with Gates at an event in San Francisco Tuesday, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief technical officer, said that with Live Software, Microsoft plans to offer an entire range of Web-based services that customers can use in conjunction with Microsoft software or on a stand-alone basis.
"Microsoft's intent is to offer a general services platform," he said. "It will have a tremendous number of services within it, such as storage services, communication services, peer-to-peer connectivity and an identity mechanism."
Live Software also will include software for various devices that will enable customers to take advantage of the portability of Web-based services, Ozzie said.
Windows Live and Office Live will start with a Web portal that will provide both existing Web-based services for Windows and Office, as well as new services that are currently in development and some services currently being offered by Microsoft's MSN portal, Ozzie said.
A beta of Windows Live can be found at http://www.live.com/. Windows Live includes an e-mail service and Windows Messenger, which is similar to MSN Messenger but includes more robust ways for users to sort and maintain e-mail, phone and instant-messaging contact information. It also includes enhanced local and Internet search technology, as well as collaboration technology for file sharing through a peer-to-peer network that Microsoft acquired from Groove Networks in March.
More services will be rolled out for the Windows Live beta in the next few weeks. Microsoft plans to eventually transition all its MSN and Hotmail e-mail users to its Windows Live e-mail service, but will continue to evolve the services provided on the MSN portal, said David Cole, a senior vice president in Microsoft's Windows group.
Office Live will be in beta in the first quarter of 2006, and users can sign up for the beta at www.officelive.com. The software integrates collaborative services, such as document sharing, with CRM (customer relationship management) and other business-analysis services for small businesses.
With its CRM component, Office Live potentially will compete with hosted CRM service provided by Salesforce.com Inc. In an e-mail comment, Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com chief executive officer, seemed unfazed by this possibility, and called Microsoft's Live Software announcement "a terrific thing for on-demand."
“It's looking like software is an endangered species at Microsoft," Benioff said. "The implication of 'Windows Live' is that their existing offering is 'Windows Dead.' We've been writing that epitaph for years now. It's called 'The End of Software.' "