Microsoft rolled out yesterday a new suite of updated betas for its web-connected Windows Live software, which includes Live Writer, Movie Maker, Mail, Photo Gallery, and three others. Some of the Live apps—-which you can now download as a suite or individually—gained a few notable features and tweaks, while others simply earned a brighter coat of paint. I installed the whole "Live Wave 3," took notes on what was notable, and grabbed a few screenshots as well:
The big addition to this souped-up version of Windows Vista's default mail handler is a calendar function that syncs with your Live Calendar. The calendar itself is a pretty clean-looking affair, with a white background and the month name transparently embedded in the background. Hopefully, they'll add calendar subscription options to Mail in the final release, rather than making you head to the web calendar to add an iCal file or link. There's also no apparent place to set your default appointment preferences or quick-add an event from a text line.
You can, however, right-click any email you see in Live Mail and select "Add to calendar"—but by "add," at least at this point, Live Mail really means "reply and add a calendar input box to the toolbar":
So, Live Mail's calendar has a long way to go to match even Yahoo Calendar in the features and convenience realm, but what it does offer is tight integration with your Windows address book (which gets populated by Office and Outlook use) and live syncing to Windows Live web services, which is, well, the whole point here. Let's move on.
The actual meat of this neat, under-touted app hasn't changed all that much since our screenshot tour of tips and tweaks. It did, however, add a few more blog formats it's comfortable hooking into, and you can now quickly grab and embed videos from YouTube—from your own account, your favourites, or elsewhere—without having to touch a single bit of HTML. Live Writer remains one of the best ways to edit a blog for both novices and experienced writers who just don't want to mess around with their platform's web interface.
Full disclosure: I could only think of one friend, offline at the time, who uses MSN Messenger, so I apologise for the rather empty screenshot.
Of all the Live Wave 3 apps, Messenger got the truest overhaul. The LiveSide.net blog has already done the yeoman's work of detailing all the new features and interface changes, but here's a quick hit list:
- Integration with your computer's shared folders and the Live Skydrive service.
- Uber-customisation of your icon, shaded border, and even the background that appears on your chat window and any contacts'.
- You can receive messages and sign on from multiple computers.
- "Signature sounds" let you have a sound play on contacts' computers when you message them (and it can, of course, be turned off by the inevitably annoyed).
- Easy photo sharing—just hit "Photos" in the chat window, select your photo, and the contact sees it, even if it's not clear how to save it.
Live Photo Gallery
Like the latest update to Picasa Web Albums, Live Photo Gallery is all about faces—auto-identifying them in pictures, asking you to identify who they are, then matching them up with your Windows Contacts book or (preferably) a Messenger contact. That would make it easy to, say, instantly share with your friend Joe every picture you have with him in it. You can do this photo-by-photo, or set Photo Gallery to auto-scan through your pics and identify people in a batch of the photos they're in. Nifty stuff, and if you prefer a cleaner, less cluttered interface than that of Picasa, you'll find what you're looking for in Photo Gallery.
Other app updates
Windows Live Movie Maker: I couldn't give this one much of a try, since it basically supports only Windows Media files for editing. And I use the term "editing" loosely; even the (normally enthusiastic) LiveSide blog calls this a concept piece more than usable software. It can't trim clips (seriously?) or show you a visual timeline, mix audio in or out, or work with any service other than MS' own Soapbox. If you want a light but functional editor, stick with Vista's Movie Maker.
Toolbar: Ties Internet Explorer together with your Live services, offering quick-links to your Windows Live Mail, Photos, Calendar, and Live Search, along with a page translation button and feed-updated links from MSNBC.
That's my take on all the new Windows Live offerings. What features or changes have you liked seeing in the new betas? What would you want to see added before you consider taking the dive into Live? Let's hear both sides in the comments.