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Microsoft's Live isn't, well, live - at least not in a "here it is with a full set of bells and whistles" sense. But it is here, as a proto-being, and the company wants developers to go and try it out, find out what it can do and, from there, get some ideas on what they might want to do with it.

According to Ian Moulster, Live's UK product manager in Microsoft's product development evangelism group, the service is still very much an evolutionary process. "There are gaps in what is on offer and the vision for it is not complete," he said.

In practice, this is hardly surprising, as much of the final vision will come from what end users ultimately find useful about its capabilities, and developers get their teeth into what's possible with it. That also is why there seems a bit of a dichotomy between the demos used to show its capabilities and the marketing line being used to promote it.

For example, the market reference points used are services such as Hotmail (with a claimed 240 million active users) and Messenger (with 230 million). These numbers are then coupled to the concept of "Me", the individual at the centre of everything with family and friends as the immediate circle around "me" and then associates, groups with common interests, etc. That seems squarely aimed at the likes of Google and Yahoo!, which have tended to gain the mindshare advantage with the young and hedonistic.

The Live demos seen so far, however, have tended to have a strong business orientation, being largely based around the real service possibilities that exist around mashups using Microsoft's Virtual Earth mapping and imagery service and a variety of directory, messaging and database services using Visual Web Developer.

One example being used by Microsoft shows how Lewisham Council is identifying anti-social issues such as graffiti by using its website to show before and after images, details of work to be conducted, and a map to show the location. There were other demos built on the "user need-search directories-locate on map-route find" model, which could certainly have commercial potential.

This isn't a snipe at Live, however, for with a range of functions and services already available for developers to play with, any demo will, by its nature, be truncated. And it is the type of blank canvas service offering where one developer's meat will be another developer's bowl of muesli.

The only real answer is, on this occasion, exactly what Microsoft wants it to be – for developers to go and have a play with Live to see what they can build with it. ®

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