Microsoft has officially taken the beta moniker off the next generation of its Windows Live services, which it launched at events in New York and Los Angeles on Nov. 6.
This new generation of Windows Live will be available in 36 languages and 59 countries across the world, and is the first integrated release of the services, Brian Hall, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Live business group, told eWEEK.
Windows Live is designed to focus on three main things: putting the user at the center, providing an integrated experience across everything that Microsoft does on this front and bringing the best of the Web to Windows, he said.
Read more here about the updated Windows Live suite Microsoft delivered in September.
In line with that strategy, this release brings enhancements to popular services such as Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Spaces, while introducing new services for sharing digital photos, planning and sharing events, publishing to the Web, and staying in touch with people, Hall said.
"This is the first release that really pays off on that. It pays off with a suite of Windows applications that not only work well with Windows Live but also work with many other popular online services," he said. "You can have your AOL Mail, Gmail and Yahoo Mail—if you have POP access—all coming in to one client. We are also releasing support for 64-bit Windows this week."
Customers can share photographs from Windows Live Photo Gallery on Flickr, while Writer lets users post and manage their blogs in a rich way from any blog service that supports RSD (Really Simple Discovery), "all of which extends the Windows Live experience to the Web," Hall said.
Users can also get a summary of all their different interaction points with Windows Live in a communications dashboard.
One of the strengths of Microsoft's Windows Live strategy, according to the company, is that there are more than 405 million users of its Hotmail and Messenger services, many of whom are expected to start using additional services.
Click here to read about the launch of Windows Live Hotmail.
Asked if Microsoft has the capacity to meet potential new demand and provide a good experience, Hall said the broad beta testing the company has already done helped prepare it for that, and Microsoft remains confident in the quality and scalability of the services.
Analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group noted that while Windows Live is similar to a number of other properties, its advantages lie in three areas: the integration of existing popular communications packages (Hotmail and MSN/Windows Messenger), a good blog editor (Windows Live Writer) and some aggressive family security tools, which could become a differentiator over time given some of the concerns surrounding properties such as MySpace.
"With social networks, the power isn't in the technology, it is in the membership. Windows Live is actually a really nice offering, but if the people who you know are using something else, that won't mean much," Enderle said.
"Microsoft's alliance with Facebook showcases that they are increasingly willing to partner and learn, and I think it is likely that it will be partnerships like Facebook that will better define Microsoft's future in this space," he said.
On the competitive front, Hall said Microsoft increased the number of active Windows Live identities by more than 19 percent year over year in the first quarter of its fiscal year and that it expects continued good growth.
Microsoft recently released the public beta of Popfly. Click here to read more.
"We also bring the best of integrated communication to users in an open way, as we realize that the entire community is not going to be on any horizontal network like Facebook, and so it is important to enable that," Hall said.
In addition, a recent Harris Interactive study commissioned by Microsoft showed that 61 percent of online consumers find it frustrating to visit multiple Web sites to access the online information they need, with 67 percent of those surveyed saying they would use an all-in-one service with a single user name and password for organizing and managing everything they do online, Hall said.
Microsoft will be launching new services as well as refining and updating the existing ones. "We are going to keep marching forward and pulling things together across the Web, the PC and the phone," Hall concluded.
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