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Microsoft decides not to go it alone

The International Herald Tribune tackles one of the more interesting (and, if you're not up on this stuff, unexpected) developments in the new Windows Live suite/Wave 2 products and services:

Two years after Bill Gates first introduced the world to the idea of a "Windows Live," Microsoft made its free online consumer products official this week by taking them out of the testing phase.

One of the goals of the Windows Live package, which includes e-mail, messenger, blogging and photo-sharing services, is to link desktop computer software running on Microsoft's mainstay computer operating system to the "cloud" of computing available on the Internet.

On another level, the goal is more basic: to compete with such services that already exist elsewhere on the Web, from the likes of Google, Yahoo and MySpace.

If you are a newcomer to Windows Live and check out the applications, either as an all-in-one download or piece by piece, you will discover one very un-Microsoft feature: They are not designed to work only with Microsoft products.

Take Windows Live Mail, for instance. The e-mail program can download Web mail from Google's Gmail and from AOL, as well as Microsoft's own Hotmail.

Or the new Photo Gallery: You can also upload your Windows Live-enhanced photos to Flickr, the picture-sharing Web site run by Yahoo.

Windows Live Writer will publish your blog musings on platforms other than Microsoft's Spaces, and there are features that let you share material on Facebook, although, granted, Microsoft now has an interest in that one.

It is welcome recognition that consumers prefer choice, that Microsoft's old approach of building fences around its systems, chaining them together and locking people inside mostly annoyed users, even if the programs all worked better together - never mind the legal questions.

I think it's cool these guys get it when it comes to Windows Live. Microsoft doesn't get enough credit for the interoperability stuff, but they actually do a decent job.

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