Why Windows Live might hurt Windows 8
Two days ago, I installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, upgrading from the developer beta. The install process was great, once I finally got it downloaded, setup was quick and easy, and I was off and away using Metro and lamenting the fact that I don't have an appropriate tablet to try it on. The interface is much improved over the dev preview, the Xbox Companion app is awesome, and the People hub is superb. All in all, I was very happy with it.
Then something happened: I opened the calendar app.
The first thing I saw was a dialog asking me for my Windows Live ID. And, in fact, if you don't put in said ID, you can't even use the calendar. The same goes for Mail. This is a problem for Microsoft. Not everyone uses their services, and not everyone wants to.
Ecosystems are important, and I understand Microsoft wanting to emphasize their own services - that's fine. But I think it's going to reduce the viability of Windows 8 as an option for current users of other platforms. I love Android, but even if I didn't I would still use it because quite frankly, I'm stuck. I use Google Voice, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Music, and Google Docs so extensively that I need the platform that works best with those services. Now historically, this hasn't really influenced my laptop/desktop OS alignment, because unfortunately Android for PC's doesn't exist and OS X is roughly equitable with Ubuntu and Windows 7 as far as compatibility with Google services goes.
The problem for Microsoft begins with Windows 8, because they're making it into a mobile-like OS, even for those who use it on a desktop. In other words, it actually matters which services and ecosystem it's tied into, because instead of using the browser or 3rd party apps for everything, Microsoft is providing you with nice built in options that you'll probably use since they will inevitably be tied into the OS better than 3rd party or browser based alternatives. So now, if the focus isn't on your chosen ecosystem, that becomes a problem. Sure, the mail, contacts, calendar, etc. programs in Windows 8 probably will at least support Google services, and maybe Yahoo, but they sure won't support iCloud and iMessage, even as OS X adds in more and more integration with those services. And there are a lot more people with an iPhone then a Widows Phone, so if the increasingly mobile-like desktop OS'es start working better with one phone platform or another, which one are consumers going to choose? The one with the best support for the services they use on their mobile platform of choice.
So, in other words, I think that a lot of Apple consumers who currently have an iPhone, iPad, iCloud and a Windows PC will be looking a lot harder at a Mac for their next purchase, simply because it integrates with iCloud. Which is not good for Microsoft. Meanwhile, those of us with Android and Google services will just be at a loss for what to do for their desktop OS, as Macs become increasingly focused around iCloud services and Microsoft goes all in with Live. But if you use Google services extensively, you aren't going to want to go with Windows 8, because it will be
This extends beyond email and calendars to music and movies, though it's a somewhat different scenario. I love the new Music and Movies hubs in Windows 8... They're awesome. The problem is, the way to buy things in them is through the Xbox Live/Zune/Whatever you call it store. Now, I have nothing against the Xbox Live/Zune store, but it's not cross platform. When I open up the music hub on Windows 8, or fire up my Xbox, I see a song that looks cool, and I think of buying it. But then I remember that it won't work on my main computer, a Macbook, or my Linux desktop, or my Android phone, or my mom's Touchpad. And I can't share it with my friends who use Macs and iPhones, or my bandmates with a Google TV device. So I go to Google Music or Amazon MP3/Instant Video, and buy it from one of those services.
Yes, this very principle will keep current Microsoft users from leaving for a different platform, which I'm sure is the idea, but I think it's better to make it easy for new people to give you money then keep your current customers in a prison that is just as hard for new people to get in to as it is for current residents to break out of.
Why am I not saying the same thing about Apple's moves with Mountain Lion? Well, I could. But there is a crucial difference, which is that Apple already has a huge number of people using their media store, cloud services and mobile offerings, while Microsoft does not. They have a huge amount of desktop Windows users, but those customers aren't really locked into any services.