Microsoft is bringing its Windows Live services together under one roof, while acknowledging that many of its customers also spend time down the street at rivals' houses.
The Windows Live services suite, a beta version of which is expected to be released late Wednesday, brings together Microsoft's desktop programs for sharing photos, instant messaging, sending e-mail and posting blogs.
Although Microsoft hopes to eventually win more converts to its services, many of its newly gathered-together desktop tools also work with competitor's offerings. The Windows Live Mail desktop program, for example, connects to Windows Live Hotmail, but also to nearly all other major e-mail services such as those from Google and Yahoo, for instance.
Likewise, Windows Live Writer can be used to upload blogs to Windows Live Spaces, but also to other major blog sites.
"We really are trying to make it so that it is about individuals working with the services they want to work with," said Chris Jones, a corporate vice president in the Windows Live unit. "There are lots of people who use services from other companies. Part of our proposition is to help you make sense of it all."
Microsoft said in June that it was planning to introduce a common installer for its Windows Live products. In addition to Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Writer, the unified installer can install and update Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Toolbar, parental control software and Windows Live Photo Gallery, a photo-sharing utility first announced earlier this summer that is moving into public beta for the first time.
In addition to the Windows Live-branded services being offered directly by Microsoft, the company is hard at work creating an infrastructure of services that developers can build on top of, a set of abilities some have referred to as a "Cloud OS." Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company will have more to say on the matter later this year.
Jones said the company didn't yet have anything to add on that front.
As for Windows Live, Jones said the company has a vision of allowing access to any file from any device.
"It's a pretty broad vision so it will take us time to get there," he said.
Microsoft has struggled in its attempt to expand its array of Web services, though its Hotmail and Messenger both have huge audiences. Meanwhile, Google is charging ahead in offering productivity applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets, to people on the Web for free--a threat to Microsoft's core desktop business.