"People don't want a waitress and a cook - people want a chef that is also a nutritionist!" - Windows Live may well be all of these...
Technically there isn't much wrong with Windows at all - it's a great operating system and it underwrites an ecosystem so vast that literally no one can speak to all of it. That makes for some tough choices for people and the potential for confusion and real customer dissatisfaction exists with greater frequency.
In very real ways, Windows provides for too many choices and too many options for people to manage well without assistance of some kind. I remember returning to the United States some years ago and visiting an average grocery store. I needed a few simple sundries is all... What a mess! I walked around in some kind of odd, stunned state of disbelief for the better part of an hour. The choices were so many and so numerous, that it was quite difficult to choose from among them. I looked for the familiar, but could not find the items I was used to from among the sea of products displayed in every category. It didn't matter what it was I searched for, either - simple stuff, like toothpaste became a quest for understanding - anything! I was miserable, laughable and pathetic. I stood back; I leaned in; I read and re-read... and read some more. "Extra" "Super" "Super Ooper Duper Extra" - where in the world is regular? I gave up and called my wife. Celestial mechanics and system components I can handle, shopping for soap...? I was done. The choices were too many. In many ways, that is what a Windows user faces when they step up to buy a personal computer and all that attends it.
As computers became commoditized and more appliance like, dollars that were available to support their personalization evaporated quicker than a cold beer at an Auburn -v Alabama game. Great sales associates became very scarce - their employers just weren't going to pay them a living wage, because our demand for cheap was just too great. The computer and related accessories shopping experience went from tough to downright miserable... and so went the user experience.
Worse... as the socialization of the web permeated even the best of sites with the best of intentions, any real help for users in public forums disintegrated into a juvenile exchange of insults and one-ups-man-ship. Useless quips and one-liners replaced thoughtful help and mature exchanges between people in need and those trying to offer effective assistance. These days few helpful user posts survive even a few hours before they are lost in the wake of those motoring around in one hate-boat after another. So much of what the personal computing experience could be, is simply lost, or never discovered and it's damn sad - for regular users.
Windows and its ecosystem aren't the real problem. Bellying up to the massive food-bar that the ecosystem presents sure can be. The Windows ecosystem is so vast and so diverse that for many users it is like being wheeled up to a global buffet blindfolded and told to begin eating. Once the blindfold is removed, the regular computer user is left to interpret the warm gray hairy thing in front of them - only later to realize from some distance that what they are being asked to bite into is an elephant - a really big one! Many users are left to ponder what to do next and there are few good sources to help them along the way. Microsoft Partners and large OEM's are there to some extent, but the pressures they face economically, have severely restricted their ability to support users in meaningful ways. Closing off the ecosystem would be a disaster and that isn't an option - I mean, the idea that "it all just works" is usually true only when the what of what works is defined by someone else [as Apple does] and that just isn't personal - it's one man's idea of what personal is.
Small builders could be the answer, but like our own company, we just can't handle the volume needed to address all concerns and frankly, small builders and integrators don't want to address all concerns.
So what is one to do?
Windows Live may be the answer to a lot of the challenges I have addressed above. Live, not so much for what it currently is, but for what it could be, might just be the binder that users are looking for - connecting them to the larger Windows ecosystem in ways that haven't even been thought of.
What Google and Apple do not seem to appreciate as well as Microsoft does...
I'm a betting man, but I don't gamble. [true of a lot of business owners]. I bet the proverbial farm all the time. So far, we've kept the farm and kept it growing. I'm betting that Microsoft and Windows Live will continue to extend the Live platform to developers - along with appropriate tools and solid API's specifically designed to help partners and users push the Windows platform beyond the desktop and themselves, and open it up for initiatives and people of every skill level and need. This process is already off to a great start over at Windows Live Dev and I assess it will only get better - a lot better and really quickly. A cursory glance at the service API's reveals that a whole lot of work has and is being done by the Live team. See the Live Web Services Poster.
I always said that the most exciting and important thing about Windows Vista was not to be found among its features, but by how it was developed and what people would do with it - obviously, the most exciting things and greatest innovations will come from developers building for the platform - be they from Microsoft, or elsewhere in its ecosystem.
From what I see and have used, it is more than clear to me that Live is the glue that will bind users with developers in ways never before possible. It is equally clear that very soon, nearly all personal computer users will be developers themselves - self-service applications tools aside, regular users will author great applications and mash-ups with tools and utilities added by the tens of thousands.
I am betting that Windows Live Web Services and all the devs that use the service API's will be what advances not just the personal computing platform and Windows, but the billion-plus users that work and play on it each and every day. The platform some of us understand <sort of...> and all of us know as Windows, is really in its very first few days of life. It will grow in size and scope beyond what even the most visionary can now imagine.
When I think of all the press around Google and Apple and I look at the platform side by side with Windows Live Web Services and their API's, I laugh - out loud. How can they all always get it so wrong and one man and one company always get it so right...?
Trust me on one thing: what we think Windows is, is hardly the beginning. It's currently just a compass, where what it will become one day will seem much more like a military grade GPS.
If this is the world that Bill Gates saw from the beginning, he's got to be one very underestimated man and scary smart in ways that even smart people can't fully comprehend.