Microsoft Debuts Windows Live Essentials Beta

Microsoft rolled out the new beta for its Windows Live Essentials, which features multimedia and productivity applications such as Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Sync, Writer, Mail and Family Safety. Business users may gravitate toward Windows Live Mail, which supports multiple e-mail accounts and brings calendar and RSS feeds onto the platform, and Sync, which allows files to be synchronized across multiple PCs. Despite its traditional base in desktop software, Microsoft has been increasingly focused on cloud-based applications as a vital component of future strategy.

Microsoft began rolling out the new beta for Windows Live Essentials on June 24, offering up a variety of services for photo sharing, blogging, e-mail and document productivity.

The beta includes programs such as Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Sync, Writer, Mail and Family Safety. Besides offering a way to share photos and video among one's contacts, the suite also includes tools for organizing e-mail accounts, synchronizing files across multiple PCs and accessing those files from the cloud. Among the offerings:

Windows Live Photo Gallery lets users manage their images. New facial recognition technology allows the program to automatically tag people in those photos, or at least make an attempt. Geo-tagging, where GPS coordinates are baked into an image, is also supported by Photo Gallery.

Movie Maker offers granular options for saving videos (including more mobile-device-friendly formats) and customizing settings, and supports recording from a Webcam.

The Windows Live Mail e-mail client supports multiple e-mail accounts, and brings calendar and RSS feeds onto the platform. The various e-mail accounts can be color-coded for easier management. "Windows Live Mail has the Photo Mail feature where I can create personalized albums within an e-mail which stores photos privately in SkyDrive," Brandon LeBlanc, a spokesperson for Microsoft, wrote in a June 24 posting on The Windows Blog, "so whomever I send e-mail to can view the photos but without taking up space in their e-mail account or taking a long time to download."

The new version of Windows Live Messenger bundles a variety of social-networking services into the user's message stream, in keeping with recent Web communication trends that seek to coalesce outside applications into existing services; users can update their Facebook or Windows Live status through Messenger, as well as comment on their friends' recent Facebook postings.

For more business-centric users, though, the most useful tool in this particular collection may be Windows Live Sync, which allows users to synchronize documents and other files on multiple PCs. With Sync, users can also enable remote access to any of their PCs.

"I currently have 5 PCs connected and syncing together with Sync," LeBlanc wrote in his blog posting. "I have 2 folders I am syncing-one for work documents and another for personal stuff. I keep them separate. I am able to choose to have each of these folders sync with -SkyDrice synced storage,' which is 2GB of free online cloud storage for my files. Everyone gets this today with Sync."

Despite its legacy as a desktop company, Microsoft has increasingly focused on cloud-based functionality. In a March 4 speech at the University of Washington, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested that cloud services represent "the bet for our company."

"Companies like ours, can they move and dial in and focus and embrace?" Ballmer asked an audience comprising primarily students. "That's where we're programmed. You shouldn't get into this industry if you don't want things to change. The field of endeavor keeps moving forward."

Microsoft's recent cloud-based initiatives include Windows Azure, SQL Azure, Web-based Office applications and Xbox Live. Despite the cloud focus, however, the company's fortunes are still largely tied to the performance of its desktop-based software, and probably for good reason; Microsoft's other bit of news on June 24 was that Windows 7, the latest version of its operating system, has sold 150 million copies since its October 2009 release.