A member of a Windows Live team of developers says he has seen lots of confusion among the people who have visited his booth at Microsoft's TechEd developer conference in Boston, an indication that the company's initiative to take its software to the Web remains a mystery for many customers.
Trevin Chow, who works in the Windows Live ID team, said in a candid blog that the most often-asked question Monday at the booth was: "What is Windows Live?"
"After talking to about 25 customers, it was abundantly clear that customers have no idea at all what Windows Live is, or how it relates to Windows or MSN," Chow wrote. "This explained why there was so little traffic to our booth -- of the people that stopped by, they almost did it by accident. Those that did see us on the TechEd floor plan, probably avoided our booth because they thought they knew what products/services we represented (and were most likely wrong)."
Microsoft declined a request for an interview, but a spokesperson said in an email that products under the Windows Live brand were currently in beta.
"Today millions of consumers are using these services as we continue to advance and evolve them for release," the spokesperson said. "We look forward to launching many of our Windows Live services over the coming months and year and turning up the volume as we do."
While it's unclear whether the current head scratching portends trouble, some experts said Tuesday Microsoft's approach to rolling out Windows Live services has been confusing. Windows Live is the brand name for Microsoft's long-term initiative to offer its software as services over the Web. Many of the Live services today, however, are in beta and are upgrades to MSN services.
"The overlap between MSN and Windows Live is confusing for a lot of people," Matt Rosoff, an analyst for Directions on Microsoft, said. "When Windows Live comes out of beta, it may become clearer."
Rosoff's colleague at the analyst firm agreed.
"There's nothing there that's strikingly different than what they already offer (on MSN)," analyst Paul DeGroot said.
Joe Wilcox, analyst for JupiterResearch, said it's too early to assess the effectiveness of Windows Live marketing, since it hasn't begun in earnest yet. That probably won't happen until the Live services leave beta, which Wilcox doesn't expect to happen until Microsoft gets closer to the release of Windows Vista. The next major version of the operating system is due in January.
Nevertheless, there is cause for some concern when Microsoft developers, who have every reason to keep tract of the company's products and direction, can't define Windows Live. Microsoft is depending on developers to eventually start embedding Live services in Web applications.
"It should concern Microsoft if the TechEd attendees don't show some awareness of what Windows Live is," Wilcox said.
Rosoff saw some similarities between the marketing of Windows Live and .Net, a brand that Microsoft adopted several years ago in its initiative to focus its software and technology on the Internet. Back then, Microsoft went too far in branding too many products .Net, and appears to be headed in the same direction with Live.
"They have to be careful of that so it doesn't become devalued as a brand," Rosoff said.
Another issue is the fact that Windows Live, despite the name, has no clear connection to Microsoft's Windows operating system.
"Just the use of the word Windows is a little bit confusing," Rosoff said. "The connection between Windows and Windows Live is pretty stark."
In time, however, the connection may become clearer as Microsoft introduces new services that don't stem from its Web portal MSN.
In his blog, Chow is very candid in his evaluation as to what has gone wrong, and believes it may take longer than expected for Windows Live to become a solid brand in the marketplace.
"Frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves for this mess," Chow wrote. "Clearly our marketing and external communication failed somewhere. I'm confident we can recover though; it will just take much longer than anyone ever expected."