LiveSide (the independent Windows Live news blog) spotted that Windows Live Toolbar is now sporting a “Now released” tag. It’s a browser toolbar that rolls up a variety of convenient features including Windows Live Search and the Onfolio feed reader in one free package. Also related, Windows Live Gallery went into beta. The Gallery provides a library of Microsoft and third party “gadgets” that can be added-in to enhance other Windows Live services including the Toolbar.
But here’s a puzzle. Do you get the feeling that Windows Live marketing has gone AWOL since Martin Taylor’s disappearance? Windows Live OneCare and Windows Live Messenger got press releases when they shipped in May and June respectively (at which point Taylor left), but Windows Live Custom Domains and Windows Live Favorites just got posts in Microsoft blogs when they shipped in June, as did Windows Live Expo when it shipped in July. Now Windows Live Toolbar doesn’t even get a post in a Microsoft blog that I can find.
Admittedly, not all Windows Live offerings are of equal importance, but Windows Live Expo is going to do battle with craigslist for the lucrative classified ad market and Windows Live Toolbar is a control center for a number of important Windows Live features. You’d think Microsoft could pony up a few bucks for some real announcements and a little hoopla if Windows Live were really so important to the company’s future. Could the budget be a little tight, what with the competing demands for Vista, Office, Xbox 360, and Zune marketing, or is marketing just disorganized?
Update 7/26: Microsoft’s Dennis Cheung proved more adept than I at delving into Microsoft blogs. He notes that there was a post about the Toolbar release at Microsoft’s Virtual Earth blog and after my post above, Microsoft’s Live Search blog provided a nice introduction. It’s great that the teams are providing their own publicity since they seem to be the only ones doing it.
Via email, I also received a suggestion that perhaps Microsoft is saving their fireworks for a gala celebration when one of the bigger name Windows Live products ships, say Windows Live Search which has been promised shortly. That’s certainly a possibility, although hoarding all the good news leaves you open to complaints about “old news” when you finally get around to the combined launch. In any case, a combined launch is certainly the place to make up for earlier lost opportunities.
We’re leaving the “Beta tag” blanket at home. That’s right…thanks to your beta testing and feedback; we’ve now officially launched Windows Live Custom Domains. Our colleagues over in Messenger kicked off the Windows Live launch season last week. Along with the launch of OneCare and Live Favorites, we’re excited to continue the momentum. Windows Live is about the Web, the way you want it. Personalization is a key piece here, and let’s face it…your identity online is central to that. Custom Domains enables people to use all of the Windows Live and MSN services they want with an ID that’s as unique to them as they want it to be.
For those who aren’t familiar with Custom Domains, we provide free hosted e-mail for your domain. Let’s say you own the domain name, “wingtiptoys.com.” With Custom Domains, you get unlimited, free e-mail accounts at that domain. You can open accounts for firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc. Oh wait, did we mention that it’s free? This isn’t one of those “free during beta” trial offers. This is free for life.
New Feature: Open Membership
We’re jazzed about a new feature we’ve added called Open Membership. How does this work? Let’s say you run a website called “soccerfan.com.” Your users love your site and want an e-mail address @soccerfan.com. Prior to this launch, each user would have to request an e-mail account from the administrator. Then, the admin would manually approve and create each account. We’ve made things much easier all around with this launch.
With the Open Membership featured enabled, we provide URL links so users can automatically sign-up for an e-mail account @soccerfan.com. Admins no longer have to burden with the manual creation of email accounts, and users get accounts immediately. Users will love their new email because it’s a brand new MSN Hotmail or Windows Live Mail beta account with a highly personalized @soccerfan.com domain name. Web site owners will love it because their users help promote the site. Also, users will re-visit the host site often to check their e-mail.
I can think of a few serious downsides to providing on-demand email addresses at your domain to whoever drops by on the Web, but the general Custom Domains idea is fine.
This also reminds me that I have heretofore failed to mention that Windows Live Favorites is out of beta as well. It’s the service that allows you to store your browser favorites online.
Finally, the beta of Windows Live Local has added free calling to businesses that appear on your map displays:
A new release of Live Local went out over the weekend. Mostly minor bug fixes, but a few new features made it in as well. One of the more interesting is the ability to phone any business for free. Using it is easy – do a business search by name or category and in the result panel will be a ‘Call for Free’ link next to each business listing. Each pushpin popup on the map will also have the Call for free link. When you click it you specify your phone number -the system will dial both you and the business and connect you. Once you’ve made your first call, you can rapid dial businesses without having to re-enter your phone number.
It’s USA only for the moment and per LiveSide (where there are some screenshots) it is called “Windows Live Call for Free.”
I’m a little puzzled by the monetization of this feature, since Google is running a beta of the similar Click-to-Call in search results ads, but that’s for advertisers only which presumably covers the phone bill. (Yahoo is also testing a similar feature for local search advertisers.) Microsoft, however, seems to be paying the full tab on Call for Free, but without any direct offsetting revenue. Indirectly, of course, they are displaying ads on the page.
Overshadowed by all the hoopla late yesterday over the new betas for Windows Live Search and the new Windows Live Toolbar, the Windows Live Favorites beta also got a refresh featuring better integration with the MSN Toolbar. Yes, the MSN Toolbar. Are there too many duplicate Microsoft online products and betas yet?
Todd Bishop of The Seattle PI points to that choice bon mot delivered by some of the AOL negotiators in the recent courtship scramble as reported by the Wall Street Journal in a profile of Time Warner’s chief negotiator, Olaf Olafsson:
Two weeks ago, when Time Warner Inc. was on the cusp of signing a sweeping online deal with Microsoft Corp., a team of executives from the media company’s AOL unit traveled to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., to make sure everything was in order.
When the executives returned, they reported back to Time Warner’s top deal negotiator, Olaf Olafsson, with some less-than-satisfactory findings. They had found some of Microsoft’s technology to be clunky, while the contemplated joint venture with the software king contained what they thought were financial pitfalls.
Steve Rubel makes a similar complaint about Windows Live Favorites:
I have to say that the new Windows Live Favorites is a total disappointment. It reminds me of Blink circa 1999. Where’s the sharing, the community? Is Microsoft really a Web 2.0 company or wolf in sheep’s clothing?
The answer seems to be, “Watch this space.”