Microsoft Takes Shot at Google, Yahoo With Windows Live

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Microsoft's launch of Windows Live and Office Live online services this week is a boon for MSN advertisers and e-mail marketers, several industry watchers say.


The transformation of the company's online presence is part of its biggest strategy shift in five years, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and other executives told analysts and media gathered in Redmond, WA.


Microsoft aims to trump Google and Yahoo, which have made similar efforts to combine all services for users via desktop applications and other features in recent months. It also is expanding its reach for advertisers, shortly after aggressively pursuing advertisers to join the pilot launch of its MSN AdCenter paid search ad program this fall.


Windows Live is a set of personal Internet services and software that gathers "the things you care about -- your friends, the latest information, your e-mails, powerful search, your PC files, everything comes together in one place," according to the Windows Live Ideas Web site. Users can choose from three levels of service on the site: a free, ad-supported tier, a low-cost subscription tier and a premium tier.


"It is opening up a new world of applications for ads that can be served in a contextually relevant way," said Fredrick Marckini, president of search marketing firm iProspect, Watertown, MA. "The possibility of having a single point where you can buy ads across all of their properties portends a sizable new inventory for advertisers."


Microsoft simultaneously launched Office Live, which provides Web sites and e-mail accounts to small businesses along with a set of subscription services to "help automate daily business tasks" such as sales and collateral management, project management and expense reports. It introduces Office Live via invitation-only beta in the United States early next year.


"They're really aiming at small businesses," said Chris Winfield, president of search marketing firm 10e20, New York. "This is a way that Microsoft will get them to start using tools, then advertise through MSN AdCenter. One of the biggest successes of Google is to bring small businesses into market online, easily and cheaply."


The new Windows Live Mail beta, which eventually will replace MSN Hotmail, lets users preview e-mails without loading a new page each time (such as Microsoft Outlook) and drag and drop messages into folders. Windows Live Mail features more control for e-mail recipients via a toolbar, letting them receive more relevant messages.


"The toolbar helps them identify phishing messages and spam and creates trusted senders," said Michael Della Penna, chief marketing officer at Epsilon, New York, which includes its Epsilon Interactive e-mail marketing division (formerly Bigfoot Interactive). "It reinforces the growing importance of relevance in e-mail and the increasing ease of the consumer taking control of what they want to receive and don't want to receive."


Other Windows Live features include Messenger and Mobile Search. Microsoft said Windows Live Messenger is not available yet but promises "remarkable new ways to instantly share and connect with friends." Google recently launched Google Talk, which lets users instant message via both voice and text. Windows Live Search lets users search for businesses on their phones and be connected immediately. Also, they can view maps and driving directions.


While Microsoft is pushing the new services to consumers, it also promises that they will be offered alongside MSN.com, instead of replacing the site.


"Millions of people enjoy the programmed content that MSN.com offers, and we will continue to deliver that experience," said David Cole, senior vice president at MSN.


Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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