Microsoft's Murky 'Live' Branding


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Microsoft's "Windows Live" officially launched this week, introducing a set of consumer-facing Web applications like photo and document sharing, browser-integrated search, e-mail and event-planning tools. The applications bundle is aimed squarely at Google's popular batch of similar services, but for VARs, is Microsoft's murky Live branding muddying the waters?

Like .Net, a label Microsoft once applied to both its consumer Web services and its highly technical programming framework, "Live" is a nebulous brand that means different things in different context. In some instances, "Live" applications are hosted translations of their offline relatives, as will be the case when Microsoft's CRM Live launches early next year: Microsoft promises full functional parity with its traditional Microsoft CRM software.

But other "Live" services bear little relation to their offline namesakes. "Office Live" isn't a hosted, Web-accessible version of Microsoft Office; it's a bundle of add-on Web document storage services and a separate set of Website creation and data management tools for small businesses. Likewise, "Windows Live" doesn't have much to do with Microsoft's operating system; it's a collection of add-on Web apps.

So when Microsoft introduces a new "Live" service, should users expect a hosted version of the similarly named offline software or a set of loosely related add-ons for the offline product? Right now, the branding is too new for its squishiness to be causing many headaches, according to solution providers. Frank Lee, president of Microsoft CRM specialist Workopia, said his clients and prospects generally haven't heard of the Live branding and don't know to request CRM Live -- they just want to know if Microsoft CRM supports "hosted" or "on-demand" deployments, the jargon they're accustomed to.

But Lee expects that to change as Microsoft throws its formidable advertising muscle behind its "Live" strategy. "With Microsoft marketing's track record -- it should be pretty quick to be at the level of 'on-demand' or 'hosted' buzz," Lee predicts.

Adding urgency to the issue is Microsoft's stated plan to make as much of its software as possible available through three delivery models: traditional on-premise deployment, partner hosted, and hosted directly by Microsoft. (Want written proof that this is Microsoft's stated road map? Check out the Software + Services white paper it published this summer , which clearly breaks out the three-pronged approach Microsoft emphasized at its Worldwide Partner Conference.)

If Live is going to become as ubiquitous as "on demand," Microsoft would do well to learn from .Net's sordid past and ensure that the brand is clear and consistent.

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