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Windows Live Emerges From Beta

After a trickle of updates and "betas" bearing the Windows Live moniker, Microsoft Corp. is ready to start promoting its official package of free desktop programs for e-mail, instant messaging, blogging and sharing photos.

The programs are "essentially a free upgrade for Windows," said Brian Hall, general manager of Windows Live at Microsoft.

The package includes Windows Live Mail, which can grab messages from multiple free Web-based e-mail accounts, including Microsoft's Hotmail, Google Inc.'s Gmail and AOL e-mail. The new package, which Microsoft formally announced Tuesday, allows PC users to read and respond to mail even when they're not online, just as Outlook Express, which Microsoft has phased out, did.

Its Windows Live Photo Gallery lets users manipulate and organize digital photos and upload them to Flickr, a photo-sharing site owned by Yahoo, and to Windows Live Spaces, Microsoft's own blogging and social networking site.

The package also includes Live Writer, for writing blog posts, the Live Messenger instant-messaging program and Live Family Safety, parental controls for Web surfing at home.

The applications aren't much different from test versions previously available.

What's new is the spotlight Microsoft plans to shine on the programs.

Hall said the company has planned "one of the largest online advertising campaigns at Microsoft," with plans for 10 billion Web ad impressions on Microsoft's MSN sites and third-party sites, including the social networking site Facebook, in which Microsoft bought a 1.6 percent stake last month.

Microsoft's Windows group will be marketing Windows Live alongside its latest Vista operating system during the crucial holiday shopping season.

Matt Rosoff, an analyst at the independent research group Directions on Microsoft, said this marketing push is indicative of divisions within Microsoft, between the old guard running the MSN online business and the Windows Live group.

"Windows Live is about making Windows better by tying it to online services," and thus driving more people to buy Windows computers, he said. MSN "is still the old business model," of generating revenue with Web advertising based on online applications that don't connect to Microsoft's desktop software.

The world's largest software maker also took steps to make its Web-based services, like Hotmail, more coherent, and to rein in the number of products and Web sites it tagged with the "Live" brand.

"We've made big, big steps in this release," Hall said. "But we still have an opportunity to make it simpler, and we will. We're working on it."

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