Are you ready to use a browser as your desktop? Microsoft hopes you'll do just that using Web-based software and services bearing the Live label and intended to compete against similar offerings from Google and Yahoo. Whether the effort will succeed is yet unknown, but in the short term there may be useful freebies in it for you.
Microsoft will slap the Live brand on several products with Web components this year; but the first ones, Windows Live and Office Live (both in various stages of testing), tackle everything from localized search and mapping to e-mail and instant messaging. They're not Microsoft's first Web initiatives, but they are the most ambitious.
Specifically, Windows Live includes new e-mail and IM programs plus a customizable Live.com home page, which you can populate with your favorite blogs, RSS news feeds, and mini-apps (requiring Internet Explorer) called Gadgets. Office Live, meanwhile, provides small-business goodies ranging from a free, basic, ad-supported Web page to subscription software bundles. Microsoft hopes third-party software developers will create additional applets for Windows Live and Office Live.
Joys of Live.com
Another convenience: Live Mail includes 2GB of storage, compared with Hotmail's 250MB limit. Meanwhile, Live Messenger, Microsoft's new IM app, has a feature that lets you share documents (automatically updated via peer-to-peer technology) with fellow Live Messenger users.
New Windows Live Gadgets mini-apps look like Apple's Dashboard and Yahoo's Konfabulator Widgets. Early third-party Gadgets include a rather clunky Pac-Man game and a top-iTunes-downloads tracker.
Gadgets will be able to run in Windows Vista (as a floating object, or in the upcoming OS's Sidebar) as well as in Internet Explorer, something Microsoft hopes will encourage third-party development.
Also innovative: The Windows Live Local search and mapping service (formerly MSN Virtual Earth) displays bird's-eye, 45-degree-angle images based on satellite photos, along with directions and Yellow Pages info. Satellite images in Google and Yahoo counterparts look straight down and show only rooftops.
In June Microsoft plans to release Windows OneCare Live, a PC security and antivirus service that will cost $50 per year to cover up to three PCs. See a list of Windows Live projects at ideas.live.com.