Things are changing at Microsoft. The software company that has dominated the world's computer software - and consequently, hardware - markets for two decades is feeling the faint breeze of competition from young upstart companies, and has decided to act.
Those upstarts are mostly new names the majority have not heard of. Tiny little web companies whose offerings are so appealing that people are flocking to use them, simply because they fill a gap and fit a need. The giants of this world are playing catch-up.
People are flocking to things like Gmail (now called Googlemail in the UK), Flickr (www.flickr.com) and Writeboard (www.writeboard.com), all of them free services that replicate on the web services we used to think were confined to the computer we were working at.
Thanks to the increased availability of wireless broadband connections - soon they will be ubiquitous - computers everywhere can be expected to be online most of the time.
And with this in mind, the people who produce software are starting to wonder whether they need to produce anything physical at all. Why make CDs, wrap them in cardboard boxes, and ship them, when you can make software that works just as well through a web browser?
The web is moving towards becoming a platform for services, not just a glorified electronic newspaper or shopping mall.
This platform idea is known as "Web 2.0" and it is the primary motivating factor behind huge companies like Microsoft having to rethink their whole attitude to software design and distribution.
The vast majority of Microsoft's income over the past 20 years has been from sales of boxed copies of Windows and Office. These products, sold by the million to corporations the world over, have been incredibly popular and incredibly profitable.
But in a broadband society infused with computers - our mobile phones are computers, our stereos are becoming computers, soon our TV sets will be computers - all of them able to connect to the network all the time, people are moving away from having "a computer" at which they do their work.
Now, people want to be able to use any device to access their stuff.
So the move has begun. Microsoft's senior executives, Bill Gates included, have issued a series of memos spelling out the threats as they see them, and the new direction they think Microsoft should take.
The new direction is internet services. The path will be a rocky one, because everyone and his dog will be busy putting together their own internet services.
In taking this step, Microsoft is effectively putting itself back on the bottom rung of the ladder, alongside all the upstarts. It has the benefit of huge resources and a bottomless pit of money, of course; but some argue that the key to success in the world of Web 2.0 is good ideas that just work.
Microsoft's first step in the new direction is live.com, which uses the latest web design technologies to make the web site work more like software you're used to using. So clever widgets can be dragged from a menu and dropped into your personalised live.com homepage. It also includes a Google-style search and direct access to your Hotmail account.