So, Microsoft announced its software-as-a-service strategy. What\u2019s really interesting here is that the Redmond crew has done it again--identified a sea change and turned its lumbering ship around on a dime by grabbing someone else\u2019s rudder (think the Web and Netscape). \nNow it\u2019s all about online apps, often built with Atlas (Microsoft\u2019s version of AJAX) and launched into the world as "beta" long before Microsoft would normally release packaged products.\u00a0 They\u2019re even supporting the lot with advertising. It\u2019s a pretty bold admission that Microsoft thinks it at least needs to hedge its bets about where software is headed, even if it isn\u2019t ready to completely give up on its traditional model. It also shows that Ray Ozzie is being given a chance to really get some things done--and fast. The key, of course, is whether these products actually generate any buzz beyond the announcement. Every time Google rolls out something new, it seems to generate a wave of online conversation--they have a real knack for creating cool. Online Office? We\u2019ll see if it has the same effect. For now, if you visit www.live.com , you\u2019ll see a so-so collection of "gadgets" including things like a spiffier front end for Hotmail, weather forecasts and a horoscope generator that skips between predictions as you mouse over a zodiac symbol--hardly awe-inspiring.\u00a0 If Microsoft can turn live.com into a significant online destination, a place people regularly visit to find cool new tools, then they\u2019ll be on their way to dealing Google a serious blow. This will be especially true if Bill, Ray, et, al, can make it a destination for corporate customers looking for CRM and other line-of-business apps. We\u2019ll see if the internal conflicts Microsoft is bound to face over this new model let that really happen. Microsoft\u2019s also promising to be open with these new tools. While live.com doesn\u2019t yet support Firefox, for instance, the site promises to do so soon.And, as my colleague Scott Berinato says in his current CIO article, .Net, Web Services, and the End of the Vendor Era: After decades of holding customers captive inside the walls of proprietary software, Microsoft and its competitors are selling products such as .Net that help tear down those walls."