Microsoft Releases Windows Live Essentials 2011

Microsoft last week announced the availability of Windows Live Essentials 2011, a free consumer suite of applications designed to connect Windows users to the Internet cloud.

The suite consists of more than seven Windows Live applications, featuring Messenger, Windows Mail, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer, Family Safety and Windows Live Mesh. Windows Live Essentials 2011 runs on Windows Vista Service Pack 2 and Windows 7 operating systems. Users of the popular but aging Windows XP operating system -- still representing the majority of Windows users -- should just stick with the older Windows Live Essentials suite until ready to upgrade their Windows operating system, according to Microsoft's announcement.

The applications are currently available in 48 languages and can be accessed via a download here. Microsoft's equipment manufacturing partner Dell plans to ship Windows Live Essentials 2011 preloaded on Windows 7-based PCs sometime this holiday season. Other PC makers may follow suit, but are as yet unannounced.

The release of Windows Live Essentials 2011 marks a release-to-Web milestone for Windows Live Mesh, according to Bryan Saftler, a Microsoft employee on the Windows Live team, in a Microsoft Channel 9 video. Windows Live Mesh is a synchronization service that lets users to access their files anywhere via various devices. Windows Live Mesh connects users to 5 GB of free storage when used with SkyDrive, a free cloud-based storage space offered by Microsoft.

Microsoft previously had two synchronization products before, which were Windows Live Mesh and Windows Live Sync. However, the company dropped the latter service, Saftler explained. He said that the storage space was bumped up from 2 GB to 5 GB with Windows Live Mesh. In addition, the maximum individual file size that can be stored online is 50 MB.

These free services might be used by business users, but there are no centralized management and security options for organizations using them. Instead, organizations would have to subscribe to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite services to share documents via SharePoint Online or use hosted (and managed) instant messenger services via Lync Online.

Microsoft Messenger, which is the oldest app in the suite, now provides instant messaging services to about 350 million users, according to Saftler. Microsoft improved Messenger with this release by making it easier for users to connect to social networking sites or play YouTube videos without leaving the IM application.

With Photo Gallery in this release, Microsoft has "cleaned up the experience" for users, Saftler said. Photo Gallery provides a space for organizing photo collections. It can tap into metadata about the photo collections, such as where the photo was taken (through GPS coordinates) and through facial recognition technology. For instance, the "hover preview" function will pop up all photos associated with a tag set by the user. Saftler said that it takes about 10 to 20 photos for the program to "learn" and use this metadata. This metadata also helps users manipulate photos via "photo fuse." For instance, you can replace the face of a person in one photo by using different photo, provided that the program "recognizes" the faces.

Movie Maker is another program in the suite that taps into metadata for some of its effects. Users can stitch together frames of photos into a movie and automatically add effects, music and transitions between frames. Movie Maker can automatically create captions in frames using geolocation metadata, Saftler explained.

Windows Mail is not a mail service, but it's like a free version of Microsoft Outlook that can read various mail services, Saftler said. It can be used as a mail client to read POP3- and IMAP-based mail services.

Windows Live Writer is designed for blog writing and will work with any blog platform. Users can write and post without knowing the HTML markup language, Saftler said. In addition, dates can be preset, enabling automatic publishing of blog material at a particular date.

With this release, Windows Live Writer works specifically with the blog service by default. Microsoft announced last week that it plans to transition all users from its Windows Live Spaces blog to blog.

Microsoft claims that it has 30 million Windows Live Spaces users. However, rather than continue with this service, Microsoft has partnered with Automattic, the company that runs, which is "used on over 26 million sites." Supposedly, Microsoft has made it easy for Windows Live Spaces users to upgrade to and move blog posts, photos and comments over to the space. Windows Live Spaces users get a dialog box to help ease such moves.

Finally, for those who want to control family access rights on PCs, there's Windows Live Family Safety. It allows a user (such as a parent) to monitor PCs from a single computer and set different permission levels for those PCs, including Internet access.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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