Microsoft has lifted the lid this week on a number of products that compete to various degrees with popular Google services. While Google fans and blogosphere cynics have derided the Microsoft offers as "me too" knock-offs, at first look Microsoft 411 and Live Workspace look really nice. Virtual Earth 6.0 also has a "newly open" SDK and the Popfly mashup engine also made its first appearance this week.

Much of this may be following in Google's footsteps - but fact of the matter, it could end up being better than what the search giant has already brought to market.

Microsoft's 411 product, 1-800-CALL411, is based on the substantial acquisition of TellMe and was just released to the public this week. With extensive SMS delivery and sharing, geo-location and other features - this product looks substantially superior to GOOG411. I've used GOOG411 and always feel like I'm doing the company a favor helping its limping technology assimilate more spoken word into its giant databases for search and advertising.

Live Workspace will be Microsoft's online document collaboration service. Some have insisted that it's not a competitor to Google Docs, but in fact it will keep the Office revenue stream flowing while adding a collaboration layer that will preclude customer loss to Google. The early screenshots released by the company this week look a whole lot stronger than the pared down and awkward Google Docs apps. Google Docs does a lot that broke new ground a year ago - but it's completely open to challenge. Live Workspace at least appears to have a lot of promise as a stable, integrated and powerful tool. If this debate is of interest to you, make sure to check out Microsoft's all-out PR attack on Google Docs from September.

With innovation underway in opening up Sharepoint, exposing the .net code to facilitate bugfixing for developers, the release of the PopFly mashup engine and maybe SilverLight's challenge to the Adobe environments - there's no reason to begrudge Microsoft's late entries into these markets. In six to eighteen months, we may look back and say slow and steady won the race. I wouldn't bet on it, but I wouldn't presume it won't happen, either.