Office Live, Only without Office

I see that Microsoft Office Live has been released into beta today.

officeliveI guess I’ve been asleep at the keyboard, because while I have heard of Office Live, I was completely wrong about what it is. I thought it was online versions of Microsoft Office- you know Word, Excel and all that. Turns out it is a website hosting and development tool for small businesses.

And based on my reading this morning, I’m not the only person who was mistaken about Office Live.

Joe Wilcox at the Microsoft Monitor finally explained what Office Live is. Microsoft Merrimac has not yet weighed in on the issue.

Greg Linden may be on to something when he wonders if the name isn’t really about leveraging Microsoft Office’s mindshare.

Fellow Wagon Trainer Phil Sim thinks it’s about finding a growth area and awaits Google’s parry.

While I agree that small business is a growth area, it blows my mind that so many people are confused about what Office Live is or is not. This was either some bizarre marketing strategy by Microsoft or failure to manage the opening properly. The buzz that the term Office Live generates fades into confusion and disappointment upon closer review.

I’m not a marketing guru, but why not call it Business Live?

All of this unnecessary confusion is too bad, because it looks like Office Live is a pretty neat service, notwithstanding the confusing name.

The news I like even better today is this little nugget I found over at JK‘s. A free hosted Exchange service. Now that’s something a lot of small businesses really need. Why is this not getting more attention?

Bug or Feature: Microsoft Spyware Disables NAV

It seems that Microsoft’s AntiSpyware program is identifying Norton Antivirus as spyware and disabling it. Everybody is all up in arms saying that this is a terrible bug that must be immediately fixed.

Are we certain it’s not a feature? For all the reasons I mentioned the other day, Norton Antivirus has crossed the line from important safeguard to some combination of bloatware and adware. Much of my hatorade for Norton Antivirus is a result of the inclusion of the Norton Protection Center in the new version, but Norton Antivirus has long been known for creating conflicts with other programs and causing shutdown problems in Windows.

Plus, a lot of the current Norton stuff seems more interested in selling you new products than protecting you from harm.

Obviously, I am (mostly) kidding when I describe this as a feature. But of all the programs on all the computers in all the world, none has less standing to complain about conflicts caused by another program than Norton Antivirus.

Norton Antivirus complaining of a conflict creating program? As my daughters would say “I know you are, but what am I?”

Tell Me Why I Should Care About IE 7

ie7I’ve been vaguely following the release of the public beta of Internet Explorer 7. There have been some good reviews, some bug reports and a lot of hubbub in general.

In the past, I would have immediately downloaded the program, installed it and used it exclusively. But this time…I am profoundly uninterested. I am convinced that IE has fallen so far behind Firefox (mostly thanks to the multitude of add-ons and extensions) that the race is over. Some reviews cheer the addition of RSS and predict that IE 7 will spell the end of many feed readers. I think not.

For one thing, there are a lot of very good feed readers out there now, and anyone who is already using one is, by virtue of knowing what RSS is and how to read it, reasonably tech savvy and unlikely to abandon whatever reader he or she is currently using in favor of IE 7. Additionally, the killer news reader application will be an online, not offline, reader. The sole reason I use Bloglines is because, while not perfect, it provides synchronization of my feeds, regardless of whether I use my home computer, my office computer or my laptop. If I mark a feed as “read” at home, it’s still “read” when I check later from the office. No need to reread and remark old posts, the way I would have to with an offline reader.

I suggested weeks ago that Microsoft figure out some way to easily synchronize feeds over multiple computers, perhaps via Foldershare. Until that happens, RSS in IE is a nice feature, but it won’t reshape the RSS world.

The other stuff IE 7 adds is nice, but again, Firefox is so far ahead, I think Microsoft is playing for second- at least as far as the technorati goes. Granted, IE will always have a huge user base because it will be the browser of choice for the out of the box computer users. But I just can’t get fired up about it.

Can anyone tell me why I should care about IE 7?

Windows Live Messenger

livemessengerI’ve started beta testing Windows Live Messenger, the forthcoming new edition of Windows Messenger.

I’ve never been more than an occasional user of instant messaging programs because nobody I know uses them. In theory, I like the idea of instant messaging as a way to keep in regular touch with family members across the country. Once again, I wish I could get my extended family to try it.

I’m going to give Windows Live Messenger a try for at least the next month or so and see how things go. I use jknpublic@hotmail.com as my email address for instant messaging purposes if you want to give me a shout.

Once I’ve played around with it, I’ll post my thoughts about the features and improvements.

How Microsoft Can Win the RSS War

Scoble links to a blog post by Michael Affronti, a program manager for Microsoft’s Outlook team, about planned RSS integration in an upcoming version of Outlook. I use Outlook for email and probably always will. I have often scratched my head about why Outlook (unlike Outlook Express) doesn’t have newsgroup integration- thereby making users launch another program to read newsgroups. Now it looks like Outlook will have a built-in RSS aggregator so users won’t have to look elsewhere to read their RSS feeds (there’s a screen shot on Michael’s blog post).

Here’s how Microsoft can win the RSS war:

1) Make the RSS integration seamless. The screenshot looks pretty sweet in this regard.

outlooknews

2) For the love of Elvis, give us a “mark ALL feeds as read” button. The lack of this is a Sage-killer for me.

3) Figure out a way to give us 3 big viewing panes: a list of feeds; a list of post titles; and the post itself. Give me an integrated way to click to the post page AND home page of the blog I’m reading. In most of the RSS readers I have used, the first two columns make the window where the actual blog post appears too narrow. Outlook has a good pane structure now, so this should be easy.

4) Give us a way to synchronize our feeds, including read and unread, over multiple computers (via Foldershare, perhaps?). Scoble mentions the need for synchronization in his post. Foldershare, Foldershare, Foldershare. Say it with me…

5) Get this release out there before Firefox and/or Sage makes Outlook as an RSS reader as yesterday’s news as it’s in the process of making Internet Explorer. Firefox (and the multitude of extensions for it) is seriously kicking Microsoft’s butt as far as the browser feature war goes. I just don’t know if Microsoft can move fast enough to keep up. I hope it can (I have owned Microsoft stock for a long time), but I bet it can’t.

Alas, there are also ways Microsoft can lose the RSS war:

1) Take forever (see above).

2) Remove elements and features that people are expecting (think Vista).

3) Release something that does what other RSS readers do, but doesn’t represent an evolutionary advance. People need an evolutionary advance to switch. That’s why Internet Explorer dominated the browser market pre-Firefox.

Outlook still owns the email business and no one has come out with the ultimate RSS reader yet. Microsoft can win the RSS war if it moves fast enough and gives people something that is significantly better than what we have now. That sounds easy enough, right?

UPDATE: Mike busted me on my lack of numbering skill in the comments. I just fixed it. There are three reasons why I can’t count : (1) I’m bad at math, (1) I can’t type and (1) I’m bad at proofreading 🙂

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Windows Live Mail Update

I received an email invitation to join the beta test of Windows Live Mail (the pending overhaul of Microsoft’s Hotmail service) today. Having poked around a bit, it looks like my outside-looking-in impression may be correct- it looks like the easy winner in the three horse race for online email domination. Of course since, unlike Gmail and Windows Live Mail, I have not wrangled a Yahoo! Mail beta invitation, I can’t really compare all of them. Enough whining- here are my impressions.

1) It looks a lot like Outlook, which I and a zillion other people use for our email. This familiarity will give it a head start in getting people to use it over the other less familiar applications.

2) In addition to the usual email folders along the left side of the window, there are tabs for Calendar, Contact and Today at the top- again similar to Outlook (though in Outlook these tabs are at the bottom left of the window below the email folders). The Calendar tab doesn’t work in my account, but this is a beta version so that’s not unexpected. The Contacts tab works, though I could find no import feature to import my contacts from my desktop Outlook application. That may be a feature reserved for the paid upgrade version (Outlook Live)- I don’t know. The Today tab shows links to a tutorial and a feedback page. In sum, the look and feel is an improvement over Hotmail and more intuitive than Gmail’s conversational structure.

3) You can add topical folders to store mail by clicking a link at the bottom of the standard email folders. I didn’t see a way to create rules to direct email into chosen folders, but that may be coming.

The issue in my mind is how many features will be added to this free version and how many will be held back for the paid upgrade. Clearly, it’s a work in progress, but add some features (RSS functionality, perhaps) and Windows Live Mail will replace Hotmail, its predecessor, as my web based email of choice.

I’m going to use Live Mail and Gmail regularly over the next few weeks and I’ll report my impressions from time to time.

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