Free Music, Movie, Software : Microsoft Fights Back

Microsoft is not accustomed to giving people free stuff but something has fundamentally changed in Redmond; after a free streaming music service unveiled a few days ago, the software giant has announced a free video on demand service.

There's also Microsoft endeavour to release a free cut down version of Office in the near future, something that has apparently been motivated by Google own online Apps. All these have been announced over the last three weeks.

Observers could be surprised by the fact that the MSN video service, for example, is based on a rival but more universal technology - Flash - rather than Microsoft's own Silverlight rich media platform.

Equally surprising is that there will be no Digital Rights Management system apparently which, coming from "control freak" Microsoft, is rather unexpected. One can even expect downloads to be available, albeit in WMV format.

Central to all three services will be the omnipresence of advertising. This, is extremely interesting, since Microsoft's newly found strategic partnership with Yahoo hinges on the fact that the later will be in charge of online search advertising for the pair.

It is ironic that Microsoft is trying its hands at free services having made its fortunes out of paid for applications while Google has had mixed results trying to sell premium services (like Google Apps for business).

But it seems though that the wise men at Redmond have had enough of Google bucking the trend and outsmarting the software giant. Hence Microsoft is embarking into what seems to be a similar strategy as Google.

Capture as much eyeballs as possible, the money will come afterwards. Microsoft, unlike Google, appear to have more friends where it counts - in the content industry and in the traditional world of business.

In this tug of war between Google and Microsoft on how low you can go, the winner can only be the consumer who will have more choice through competition like Spotify, Hulu, Canvas and Arqiva.

The questions that remain though are (1) Has Microsoft really changed or is it just a wolf in a sheep's skin (b) Will Apple do anything?