Microsoft is finally killing off the confusing "Windows Live" brand. It's being replaced with a renewed focus on Microsoft's biggest piece of software - the Windows OS - together with a new and all-encompassing identity system named "Microsoft account."
Windows Live has been Microsoft's online branding since it was unveiled back in November 2005. But Windows Live never worked, mainly because the brand was applied to Microsoft products inconsistently and seemingly at random.
The change in branding was recently explained by Chris Jones, VP of the Windows Live group. The nutshell is that Microsoft is integrating all of its products into the Windows OS, which will be tied together using an identity system plainly named "Microsoft account."
The word "seamless" was key to Microsoft's 2005 announcement of Windows Live. It pops up again in Chris Jones' 2012 blog post:
"Windows 8 provides us with an opportunity to reimagine our approach to services and software and to design them to be a seamless part of the Windows experience, accessible in Windows desktop apps, Windows Metro style apps, standard web browsers, and on mobile devices."
What Microsoft means is that every service you need will be in Windows 8, accessible via the identity system called Microsoft account.
Compare that to 2005, when Microsoft said that Windows Live (and Office Live, the enterprise-focused version of this branding) was "designed to deliver rich and seamless experiences" between the desktop and the Web.
The difference is subtle but significant.
In 2005, Microsoft positioned Windows Live and Office Live as "enhancements" to the Windows OS and the Microsoft Office suite of products. Things you need are out on the Web, but you'll recognize them (2005-era Microsoft assured us) because they have the word "Windows" in their names. The catchphrase back then was "software plus services."
In 2012, it's more like "software plus online identity." Essentially Microsoft is now saying that the only Web service that matters is identity. To emphasize that point, Microsoft has named its identity service as generically as possible: Microsoft account. With this key account, you can access any online content from within a Windows product - whether it's a desktop PC, mobile phone, tablet, or any other type of product running on Windows OS. They don't even need to be Microsoft online services anymore - you're invited to "mix and match." Of course, you may also access those services on the Web via the browser, if you must.
Microsoft Has Lost The Battle For Web Services, But...
In some ways, this is a retreat by Microsoft in the area of online services. It's basically admitting that "Windows Live" branded products cannot compete with Facebook, Twitter and other successful online services. (So why did Microsoft launch a new social network this month, named So.cl? Yes, exactly...)
Even though this is an admission of defeat in the battlefield that is the Web, Microsoft still has some very successful Web properties. Hotmail and Messenger were singled out by Chris Jones as market-leading web products. It makes total sense to remove "Windows Live" from the names of those two products, because it only diluted their existing brand value. Don't forget also that Microsoft owns Skype, the biggest brand in Internet voice over IP and chat. There's no need to mess with those brands with an amorphous concept called "Windows Live." It took Microsoft 7 years to admit that.
Even though the branding "Windows Live" is being trashed, the design of products like Hotmail and Messenger will be integrated more with Windows 8 desktop apps. In other words, Microsoft's online services will start to look more like Windows desktop apps. Remember the days when Microsoft got sued for integrating Internet Explorer into Windows? Well essentially Microsoft is now integrating ALL of its online products into Windows. But because Microsoft is not the force it used to be, nobody will sue.
So Back to Branding...What is Microsoft Saying To Us Consumers Now
Essentially Microsoft is telling consumers: forget all those online services we used to hawk as Windows services, just get a Windows OS-powered device and please (pretty please) sign up for a Microsoft account.
It's fairly similar to Apple's winning strategy, if you equate the "cloud-powered" Windows 8 with Apple's iOS, and Microsoft account with Apple ID. The only problem is, with the exception of Xbox, Microsoft doesn't have cool hardware. It's banking on the continuing large market share of Windows OS, together with still popular online services like Hotmail, to pull it through. It may be 5 years too late, but I think it's the right move by Microsoft to simplify its strategy this way.