I’m actually somewhat surprised that this is a common question, but on reflection, it actually makes sense.
I’ve long held that Microsoft doesn’t do product names well. It’s not that the names are bad – it’s just that they’re often chosen without regard to just how confusing they are or may easily become.
Windows Live is just one such example.
It’s not a product at all, it’s a “brand”.
And yes, it didn’t really occur to me until just now, but very technically,
Windows Live actually has little to do with Windows.
The easiest way to understand what Windows Live means as a brand is to perhaps compare it to something that we’re familiar with: the automotive industry. Let’s take Windows Live Hotmail and the Chevrolet Camaro:
The net result in this comparison is that “Windows Live” is kinda, sorta like “Chevrolet” – a brand associated with a family of products.
Just like the Chevrolet brand includes vehicles like Camaros, Corvettes, Suburbans and more, the Windows Live brand also includes:
- Windows Live Hotmail
- Windows Live Messenger
- Windows Live Photos
- Windows Live Groups
- Your custom MSN home page
- and probably a lot more…
You get the idea … a bunch of online products and services that may or may not be related to each other under the “Windows Live” brand.
Confusion #1: What was your name again?
Windows Live is a comparatively new brand, in that many of the products within it pre-date it.
There was another brand: MSN, or the MicroSoft Network.
Windows Live Hotmail used to be MSN Hotmail, and before that, plain old Hotmail (or more correctly, HoTMaiL – with the HTML in caps).
Windows Live Messenger used to be MSN Messenger (which many people seemed to refer to as simply MSN, which was always wrong – like Windows Live, MSN was a brand encompassing many different products.).
So not only might the brand be confusing, the brand has also changed over time. Depending on what product you’ve been using and for how long, you might have seen it change several times.
But the products within, aside from functional changes and evolution over time, are still the same – Hotmail is still Hotmail.
Confusion #2: It’s a dessert topping and a floor wax!
All of this might start to make sense as Windows Live being a brand for Microsoft’s various online offerings.
But then we throw a monkey wrench into the mix: Windows Live Mail.
Unlike all of the other Windows Live offerings, which are primarily online websites that you visit in order to use them, Windows Live Mail is a more traditional email program that you download to your PC. It’s positioned as Microsoft’s replacement for Outlook Express, although it’s definitely a major change from that old workhorse.
And don’t confuse Windows Live Mail with Windows Live Hotmail … the first is a downloadable email program for your Windows-based PC, the other is a web-based mail service available via any web browser. You can access one from the other, but that’s about as related as they get – they are not the same thing.
So Windows Live can refer to online services as well as, perhaps, a few downloadable PC programs. It feels somewhat like Chevrolet building bicycles in addition to automobiles.
Confusion #3: One login to rule them all
Let’s face it, you probably don’t care about this thing called “Windows Live”. What you probably really want is Hotmail or Messenger or whatever service that you’ve decided to use that happens to live under the Windows Live brand.
So you create a Hotmail account – or so you believe.
The problem is that technically you didn’t create a Hotmail account at all – you’ve created a Windows Live account. That account happens to use your Windows Live Hotmail email address to identify you, and it’s what you use to login when you access Windows Live Hotmail, but it’s much, much more than that.
That single Windows Live account that you’ve created to gain access to Windows Live Hotmail also means that you have a Windows Live Messenger account, access to SkyDrive, Photo Gallery, Mesh and more. Lots more.
More that, if you’re like most people, you had no idea that you were signing up for.
It’s not a bad thing – in fact, it’s quite convenient – it’s simply under-advertised.
And if you do end up using those additional services, there’s no way to close or access them separately. If you lose access to your Windows Live Hotmail, perhaps due to being hacked for example, you’ve lost access to all of the Windows Live online services associated with it.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the time that many people first learn what “Windows Live” really means.
I’m not saying don’t use it, but I am saying use it wisely. If nothing else, realize the totality of what you have, and (of course) backup your data regularly in case the worse happens.
Confusion #4: Where’s the Windows in Windows Live?
Finally, if you pay attention to the various online offerings under the Windows Live brand, you’ll find something missing.
Most of the online services are quite accessible to anyone on any operating system with a sufficiently capable browser.
Yes, Windows Live Essentials does include several Windows-only programs that can enhance the Windows Live experience – like Windows Live Mail discussed above – and a few that do require Windows, like Windows Live Mesh – but for the most part, Windows Live is fairly platform independent brand.
So why Windows?
In my opinion, brand recognition. The term “Windows” is up there with “Coke” or “Chevrolet” as a quickly recognized brand.
And that’s really what this “Windows Live” thing is all about: marketing, branding, and brand recognition.
Even if all that it really does is add to the confusion.