Windows 8 Rebranding Means the Death of Windows Live

Nearly seven years ago, Windows Live debuted as a set of online tools and services that would change the way people interact with relationships, information, and interests across PCs, devices, and the web. This week, Microsoft announced that the Windows Live brand would be dropped and the company’s existing and soon-to-come cloud services would be rebranded as part of the umbrella Windows 8 brand. In a blog post, Steven Sinofsky of Microsoft wrote, “Windows 8 is a chance for us to act on feedback and reintroduce you to the broadest and most widely used collection of services on the Internet.”

windows 8According to Microsoft, the products and services that were formerly part of the Windows Live brand family, (for example, Hotmail, SkyDrive, Messenger, Live Photo Gallery, Live Movie Maker, and Windows Live Mail) are used by over 500 million people every month.

Following are some additional stats about Windows Live products and services from the Microsoft blog post:

  • Hotmail: The world’s leading email service with 350 million active users and 105 petabytes of storage
  • Messenger: The world’s leading instant messaging service with 300 million active users
  • SkyDrive: Over 130 million users with 17 million of those users uploading files every month
  • Windows Live Essentials applications: Among the most popular applications in their categories on Windows, including Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Movie Maker (leading photo management and video editing) as well as Windows Live Mail (second to Microsoft Outlook in mail apps).

The rebranding of Windows Live is Microsoft’s attempt of turning its fragmented product-based strategy to a broader brand-based strategy. It also eliminates some of the disconnect that existed between desktop, mobile, and web-based services. In a video (which you have to download from the Microsoft blog post in order to view it), Microsoft refers to the rebranding initiative as, “Building Windows 8: Cloud services for Windows 8 and Windows Phone aka ‘Windows Live reimagined.'”

Users will use a single Microsoft Account to access all Microsoft products and services through a Windows 8 PC going forward, including services that were formerly a part of Windows Live. Taking the cloud services experience a step further, users will even be able to check billing for services like Xbox Live, Zune, and the Windows 8 app store. Additional services will be added in the future.

Analyzing the Windows Live Rebranding

The real question isn’t whether or not dropping the Windows Live brand is a smart move for Microsoft but rather whether Microsoft is making the right business decisions to be competitive in the cloud services industry. At this point, the Windows brand is likely a detriment more than an asset. When consumers think of cloud services, it’s unlikely that Microsoft or Windows are the names that pop into their heads. As Gavin Clarke of The Register wrote, “It’s classic Microsoft, fretting over how something is perceived internally and externally, rather than simply delivering something that works or is wanted.”

I think Gavin hit the nail on the head with that comment. This rebranding will only work if Microsoft does two things successfully:

  1. Creates products and services that consumers want and need and does it better than companies and brands that are already established leaders in the cloud services industry.
  2. Repositions the Microsoft and Windows brands so they mean something innovative, modern, and fast-moving in order to “fit” into the cloud services market.

Simply re-imagining Windows Live is unlikely to be enough. For this rebranding to be successful, Microsoft needs to do a lot of research and truly get into consumers’ minds. Furthermore, I’m surprised that Windows 8 is the re-imagined brand name. Tacking a number onto the end of a brand name is an easy way to make it outdated very quickly. That’s a problem Microsoft has had for a very long time. I’d be curious to see some research data related to how that appended number actually helps the brand.

Of course, it could be argued that the brand name “Windows” is antiquated, too. It was cool when Microsoft was the company that led the way in providing great windows-based software, but anyone under the age of 35 has probably never even used a DOS-based application. And for those of us over the age of 35, the name does little more than elicit a yawn. Again, I’d love to see some research that identifies what the Microsoft name means to consumers today. It seems like the move to cloud services would be a fantastic time to rebrand in a totally new and exciting direction rather than just using Windows 8.

What do you think about the Windows 8 brand name? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? I suspect a research study would reveal an overwhelming number of people who are indifferent about the name, and that’s not a good thing for a brand.

Image: Reed Probus

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gunelius
Susan Gunelius, MBA is a 25-year marketing and branding expert and President and CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She is the author of 10 books about marketing, branding and social media, and her marketing-related articles appear on top media websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com. She is also the Founder and Editor in Chief of WomenOnBusiness.com, an award-winning blog for business women.