Thoughts on the updated Windows Live Essentials Beta

Like many of you, I’ve been using the various Windows Live desktop applications for a long time now. Until fairly recently however, they all looked and felt different from one another. There wasn’t much cohesion. That changed when Microsoft began to make the UIs similar and launched the Windows Live Installer which integrated all the apps. Recently, they gave the suite a better name (Windows Live Essentials) and did even more work to achieve a consistent look and feel. On Monday, they released the latest beta refresh.

windows live

I have most of the apps installed – Messenger, Mail, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer, and Toolbar. The only one I don’t have is Family Safety. I use Messenger, Photo Gallery, and Writer every day, and the others I use less. The install also includes the Office Outlook Connector, Office Live Add-In, Silverlight, and the Microsoft Sync framework.

I’m fairly impressed with the suite so far, but I still think it’s far from perfect. Here are a few of the things I really like:

  • The new icons look great and are consistent.
  • I love the simplified presence indicators in Messenger (these were in the previous beta too – now there’s just Available, Busy, Away, and Appear Offline).
  • In the old beta, Messenger would always sign out if I switched from Appear Offline to something else. That has been fixed, thankfully. Seems faster too.
  • Writer is easily the best blog publishing tool I’ve ever used. It just works the way I want it to. I don’t know what to say specifically, but it’s awesome.
  • Person recognition and tagging in Photo Gallery absolutely rocks! Very cool feature, useful too.

And here are a few things I really dislike:

  • Photo Gallery is ridiculously slow to load. Once it’s open it seems fine, but from launching the app to being ready to use takes forever. I’ve only got about 36 GB of photos on this machine, so I’m sure there are users with far more.
  • In Messenger, you can no longer control the color of your chat windows. It’s based on the theme/color of the person you’re chatting with. Not sure I like that…it’s a window on MY computer, after all.
  • Speaking of colors, I still don’t like that the apps are inconsistent. I can set Messenger to look black, but Writer looks grey (even though I’ve set the color to be the same as Messenger), and Photo Gallery looks light blue and lacks a color setting button. Why there isn’t a color setting like the one in Office 2007 is beyond me. It can’t be that hard!

In general, I like Windows Live Essentials. It’s definitely something I’d install when setting up a new computer. I look forward to the final release!

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