Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, speaks at the 2008 MVP Global Summit event in Seattle on April 17. ((Kevin P. Casey/Associated Press))

Microsoft Corp. has unveiled a new web service designed to connect home computers, game consoles, mobile phones and their applications together online.

The data storage and web software system introduced Tuesday, called Live Mesh, represents a fundamental shift for the software giant away from designing software for a single device — such as on a personal computer — and towards applications designed to run on the internet.

"As our industry has evolved because of this web-catalyzed services transformation, so, too, has Microsoft," said Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, in a memo to employees.

Live Mesh, which Microsoft describes as a software-plus services program, is designed to enable control of all devices through a single service and allow users to manage and access data and run applications through that service.

The service is being offered only to a group of 10,000 test users and only with products running Microsoft's XP or Vista operating systems. But the company said a public test will be available later this year and that other devices, including Apple's Mac computers and mobiles, will also be able to work with the service.

Amit Mital, general manager of the Live Mesh project, said in the company blog the service meets a growing need as the means of accessing information expands.

"As we discover, adopt and use more of these digital devices, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the people, information and applications we depend on in sync," he said.

The new service is a further departure from the company's core business of developing software for specific platforms, most notably the Windows operating system for personal computers.

Web-based software, however, has become an area of interest in the technology industry, as companies like Google Inc. have begun offering software as an online subscription service instead of as a program that must be installed on individual computers.

The market for this online approach — sometimes referred to as "cloud computing" — is still in its infancy. Last year, Google collected less than $200 million US from software licensing while raking in $16.4 billion US from advertising sales.

But it's an area Google and Microsoft appear intent on moving towards.

Last week, Google solidified its place in the web-based software market when online software service Salesforce.com announced it would sell Google's online applications to its 41,000 business customers.

Live Mesh is just the latest initiative for Microsoft. Last month, the company announced it would begin offering many of its business applications — including its online document management software Sharepoint and e-mail server software Exchange — as online services later this year.