Microsoft will deliver an updated suite of Windows Live services Sept. 5, along with a new unified installer that customers can use to download all of these applications.
This suite of services includes the first public beta of Windows Live Photo Gallery, as well as Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger 8.5, the Windows Live Writer blogging tool, Windows Live OneCare Family Safety, and the Windows Live Toolbar.
"We are adding a bunch of stuff to a number of different services. But what is new is the unified installer, as well as a host of new and different features that have been added to the betas already out there, some of which are becoming public, rather than closed, betas," Adam Sohn, director of Microsofts Online Services Business, told eWEEK.
Once the beta of the Unified Installer for the Windows Live suite is downloaded, customers Windows Live services automatically will be kept up to date.
"This is the first time we are making the installer available for download, and the idea here is that when customers click on a link to get Windows Live, the installer will be downloaded to their PC and they will then be able to pick any of the Windows Live applications they want," he said.
These applications would then be downloaded and installed at the same time, based on the options the user has chosen, and the product will then also keep these updated going forward, he said.
The Windows Live Photo Gallery, which has been in a limited beta but now moves to a public one, brings with it the ability for customers to share not only their photos on Windows Live Spaces directly from Windows Live Photo Gallery but to also share their videos on Soapbox on MSN Video directly from the Photo Gallery.
The service will also provide many of the features currently provided by other photo and video services, allowing users to import photos from their digital cameras, which will be automatically organized into events based on date and time.
They will also be able to create panoramic pictures by stitching together multiple photos, editing those photos using the cropping and color adjustment tools and view QuickTime files in the Gallery Viewer.
The update also includes some of the top technology and features that testers in prior Windows Live Mail betas told Microsoft they wanted, such as customizable toolbars and formatting abilities, performance improvements, contacts, safety and speller features.
"This client side mail service beta, which lets you connect to Windows Live Hotmail or any POP or IMAP mail service up in the sky, brings a lot of customizability with it and improvements to things like Photomail, which lets users add pictures and themes," Sohn said.
This latest release also builds on prior beta releases of Windows Live Messenger 8.5 and now includes additional family safety functionality integration as well as performance and security enhancements.
Windows Live Writer will now be available in English worldwide, as well as in 32 languages and 52 countries. Enhancements include easy ways to insert video from various video services into a blog entry, with an enhanced experience for Soapbox on MSN Video, as well as HTML markup and justified text alignment; image upload for Blogger, which allows publishing images to PicasaWeb; and the ability to print out blog posts.
Windows Live OneCare Family Safety will now also include family safety support in Mail, Messenger and Spaces, which "enables us to provide a safety net for folks who are doing lots of cool stuff online," Sohn said.
Microsoft is also going to expand the size of the Web storage Windows Live SkyDrive beta, previously known as Windows Live Folders, but it is not becoming a full-on public beta and service as yet, he said.
This update was another beta milestone as Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., gets closer to having the suite of services ready for prime time and general availability, which is expected later this fall.
"So there are a bunch of updates to the individual pieces of Windows Live that are currently in beta, as well as wrapping them together with the suite installer and updater to give users a far easier experience," Sohn said.
Microsoft was expecting that the majority of the testers for these products would be power users who liked to be on the cutting edge of technology, and was not going out to the broad base of 500 million consumers who come through its network every month.
"We are really going out to the community, and well be talking to people through our various product blogs and getting people fired up about the stuff that way. It is beta software and we will be very clear to people about that, but it is in pretty decent shape, and so we expect these to be broadly picked up over time, led by the technical community where we expect a lot of good engagement and feedback," he said.
With regard to future services, Sohn would only say that while Microsoft was focused on this set of services, "we still may have a surprise or two up our sleeves, so stay tuned."
While the current plan is to make the services ad-funded and available to users at no cost, some premium SKUs could be in the cards going forward for things such as storage with SkyDrive, much the way Microsoft has done with Hotmail and with OneCare, which is a subscription offering with some ad-funded pieces available online at no cost.
"Ad-funded services are the business we are betting on online and the way the majority of this stuff is going. I dont expect we will be moving away from that at all, but where subscriptions make sense, we are absolutely open to that," he said.
Asked about Microsofts plans for the enterprise market with Windows Live, Sohn said the company is investigating this, with chief software architect Ray Ozzie doing a lot of deep thinking about the platform and infrastructure that was needed to enable all this in the enterprise.
"There is a lot of opportunity here, and you will definitely hear a lot more from us over the next year about how we do the right thing for businesses in a way that preserves the control IT needs, and also gives them the reliability, security and integrity they need before they will allow anyone to manage anything for them, Sohn said.
"It is super important over the long term to take the software-plus-services approach and see where it can really add value across all of our audience segments. That is something we are really focused on," he said.