In a move to marry its old-school Office product with the newer trends of the Net, Microsoft issued beta software Wednesday that brings social-network information into Outlook.
The product, called Outlook Social Connector, has been available in the Office 2010 beta. According to the Outlook Social Connector download site, the new version works with Outlook 2003 and 2007 and connects with social-network partners, which wasn't the case with the earlier version.
Outlook Social Connector will let people see updates from a person's social-network contacts. LinkedIn announced in November that it would become the first actual partner in the Microsoft program. The LinkedIn connector is now available from LinkedIn's Web site.
Microsoft said connectors for Facebook and MySpace will be available in the first half of 2010.
"Starting today you can download the new Outlook 2010 Social Connector to see what your contacts are up to on LinkedIn from right within the Outlook 2010 beta. When Office 2010 ships, you'll also be able to see your contacts' Facebook and MySpace actions in the same place," Microsoft's Doug Thomas said in a blog posting Wednesday.
The Associated Press reported earlier Wednesday about the new software.
Social networking is a hot area of Internet activity, made hotter by the recent arrival of the Google Buzz service built into Gmail. But it can be tough for people to stay on top of information feeds at multiple social-networking sites; even if you can set up one service to republish updates from another service, conversation about those updates often takes place separately.
Providing a more central communication service is a challenge, though. There are differing communication protocols for different services--if those protocols are available at all--and most social-networking players are vying with each other to be the primary service that people frequent. And there are blurry boundaries between social-networking status updates, e-mails, and instant messages.
In the Outlook Social Connector case, Microsoft has some incumbent advantage because millions of people use Outlook. The Outlook Social Connector will let them read status updates in software they're already accustomed to using, often continuously throughout the day.
However, Microsoft has some challenges. For one thing, the software doesn't let people write status updates of their own, only read what others have written. For another, a lot of social activity takes place on the Web in a personal rather than professional context, and in that domain, Microsoft's Hotmail service is arguably a better fit than Outlook.
One traditional Microsoft rival, Mozilla, is angling for a place at the center of people's online social lives, too. The Mozilla Raindrop project is designed to create software for an online service for unified communications.
Updated at 6:48 a.m. PST: with a download link and more details.