I came across an article today titled “5 Great Microsoft Web Services You Probably Don’t Use” and was struck by the sheer number of different names Microsoft has for all its different services. More problematic, I think, is that the name of each service doesn’t usually hint at what the service actually provides. Even a paragraph from the article that sets out to broadly paint a picture of Microsoft’s services left me scratching my head.
If you’re like most people, you’re probably thoroughly confused by the Live lineup, and by what Live actually means–especially since Microsoft has muddied the waters with the newer “Live Essentials” moniker. For the record, Windows Live is a central online location for accessing the Live services and applications. Windows Live Essentials is a subset of the Windows Live brand that houses downloadable applications, including Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Messenger, and others.
Say what now? It sounds more like a description of a company with multiple subsidiaries as opposed to the software lineup of the most well-known and successful software company in history. But it doesn’t end there as the article goes on to describe other services such as Windows Live SkyDrive, Windows Live Sync, and Live Mesh.
Wow, I need to catch my breath for a moment. For starters, I think Microsoft needs to stop putting ‘Windows’ in front of every goddamn product they release. Windows Live, Windows Live Search, Windows Live Essentials.. I mean what the hell is going on? How can Microsoft honestly expect the average consumer to hop on board when that same consumer needs a table of contents just to get an idea of what everything is. In contrast, I’m sure most consumers already know what the Zune is, something which wouldn’t have been as likely had Microsoft chosen to call it the “Zune Ditigal Audio and Video Multimedia Player”. You know the old saying, “Brevity is wit”? Well, sometimes, branding is brevity.
You’d be surprised as to how many people who use computers for hours each and every day actually know little to nothing about how to really use all of the features on their machine. It’s therefore even more imperative for companies like Microsoft to put the essence of their services and products within the brand name itself. The simpler the better. This pattern of confusion is also inherent in Microsoft’s Vista offerings. Vista Home Basic vs. Vista Home Premium – what the hell’s the difference? Sure you can look it up, but not everyone has the time, the know-how, or even the desire to do that.
All in all, and as the aforementioned article lays out, Microsoft does in fact have some interesting service software that’s worth checking out – but if Ballmer and co. ever hope to achieve any semblance of momentum with any of them, they’d be well advised to tighten up some of their branding choices.