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!

Windows 7 Feature Request: Presence & Status API

When RSS feeds were all the rage, Microsoft took notice and built support into Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Vista. I think the Common Feed List was a great addition to the operating system – why try to manage and synchronize a different list of feeds for each application? It makes far more sense for the OS to manage it. This situation is a good example of how Windows can make your life easier.

I would like to see a similar feature added in Windows 7 – a common presence and status API.

Presence is your availability, such as “Available”, “Busy”, and “Not Available”. There are dozens of applications that support this type of functionality in their own way. I’ve got three running right now – Windows Live Messenger, Skype, and Pidgin (well and Exchange, I suppose). You’ve probably got a similar list, perhaps with a few more applications.

Status is the short text description of what you’re doing, such as “Working in the office”. Think Twitter and Facebook. Many software applications have this type of functionality as well, including Windows Live Messenger and Skype.

Here again, the operating system should be taking care of this to make life easier. When I want to change my presence from “Available” to “Busy”, I currently have to make that change in every single application. Likewise, to update my status I need to copy and paste it to a bunch of different places. Too messy, too much work.

Here’s what I’d like to see in the API:

  • The ability to set the presence and/or status of the currently logged in user.
  • The ability to query the presence and/or status of the currently logged in user.
  • An event subscription mechanism to be notified when the currently logged in user’s presence and/or status has been updated.

That would be very cool, I think. I could then change my presence or status in Skype and it could be reflected in Windows Live Messenger and other applications. This information could also be displayed in other places, such as the Welcome screen, or in my email signature, etc.

But we can make it better – let’s hook in Windows Live support! Extend the Windows Live Presence API to support status updates as well, and let me grant access to third party services. That way I could potentially hook in and other services. When I update my presence and status on my computer, it updates Windows Live in the background, which in turn updates any other services I’ve added.

With that in place, this scenario becomes a reality: I open a gadget on my desktop, change my presence to “Available” and my status to “Writing a blog entry” and it’s reflected in Windows Live Messenger, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

I’d love to have that functionality! Perhaps it could work with the new location API too. I’ve got tons of feature requests for Windows 7 (as I’m sure everyone does) but this one would definitely be near the top of my wish list.

Microsoft's Live Mesh

live mesh One of the big tech stories today was the launch of Live Mesh, Microsoft’s new platform for synchronizing files, applications, and other stuff across different devices. I read quite a few articles about Live Mesh, and I have to admit I find it daunting to comprehend. Here’s the definition from Mary Jo Foley:

“Live Mesh is a ’software-plus-services’ platform and experience from Microsoft that enables PCs and other devices to ‘come alive’ by making them aware of each other through the Internet, enabling individuals and organizations to manage, access, and share their files and applications seamlessly on the Web and across their world of devices.” If I were in charge of defining Live Mesh, I think I’d go with “a Software + Services platform for synchronization and collaboration.”

Complex, exciting, and confusing all at once. Scoble says synchronization is just the beginning too.

Here’s what Live Mesh means to me: Microsoft is serious about cloud computing, and they’re prepared to be an important player in the space.

That’s really all I care about at this point. I’m sure Live Mesh will look vastly different in two years than it does today. I’m just glad Ray Ozzie is behind it. I absolutely love Groove and expect that Live Mesh will be like Groove on major steroids!

Some observations:

Developers, you can get started here. It’s not live yet, but they’ll have a technology preview program soon. For everyone else, check out the pretty pictures here.

Read: Ten things to know about Microsoft’s Live Mesh

Facebook Instant Messaging

facebook If there’s one thing the world needs, it’s yet another instant messaging service. Okay, that was sarcastic! What we really need are better ways for the existing IM services to work together. Anyway, TechCrunch reported today that Facebook is getting ready to launch its own instant messaging service:

Our understanding is that the service will be built into user’s Facebook pages and allow them to web chat with their Facebook friends.

Also, just to be clear, I have not heard that Facebook intends to launch any desktop software around this.

I’m not sure who this is intended for. Everyone I would talk to on instant messaging I already have on Windows Live Messenger. And WLM is an excellent piece of desktop software! I’m not sure if you’ve used meebo, but I have, and while it is cool, it’s just not the best experience for IM.

Maybe they want to add this just to try and move more communication onto Facebook, as Nick O’Neill wrote about today.

Would you use Facebook IM? I think I’d definitely try it, but I doubt I’d start using it regularly.

Read: TechCrunch

One Messenger Account, Multiple Computers

Post ImageMy favorite Skype feature appears to be coming to the next version of Windows Live Messenger! According to a cached LiveSide post, Windows Live Messenger 9 will get something called "Multiple Points of Presence Support". Essentially that means you can sign in using the same account from multiple places. Currently, if you sign in on your desktop and then try to sign in on your laptop, your desktop gets disconnected. Skype has had the ability to sign in from multiple computers for quite a while, and I absolutely love it!

I can’t believe it has taken Microsoft so long to add support for this feature. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has created multiple Live accounts just so that I can be signed in on multiple computers. That means you have multiple contact lists though, which kind of sucks. With this feature, and the ability to link Live accounts (released last month) I expect there will be a significant drop in the number of accounts in use.

Another obvious feature coming to WLM9 is support for hyperlinked status messages. Basically that means you’ll be able to click the Twitter link I always have in my status 🙂

Read: ZDNet

No email address for Canadians

Post ImageBack in April I posted about Windows Live Hotmail and the news that users would be able to sign up for an email address. I was quite excited – after all, it’s a pretty cool domain name. Today though, some disappointing news:

Apparently country code addresses will only be available in countries outside the US (I’m assuming a bit here, as Jacky talks only about .ca, Canadian addresses), so that a Canadian will be able to get an address, but not an one.

The news comes from Jacky Mok, a product manager for Windows Live in Toronto.

I am a proud Canadian, but just isn’t the same as, dammit! Maybe I can proxy my way around the registration restrictions. Or maybe Microsoft can smarten up and remove any such restrictions!

Read: LiveSide

Windows Live Hotmail with Outlook

Post ImageYesterday Microsoft launched the new version of Hotmail, called Windows Live Hotmail. I rarely use Hotmail anymore, but I signed up for the Windows Live beta quite a while ago to check it out. I will say it’s better than what they had, but it’s still not for me. I really wasn’t that excited about it at all, until I came across something interesting. From the press release:

Windows Live Hotmail will deliver a safer, more powerful and productive e-mail experience than previous versions with flexible access via the Web, on a mobile phone or with an e-mail client.

Say what!? An email client? That’s something I’d be interested in.

Available later this month in 11 languages worldwide, the new Microsoft Office Outlook Connector beta will enable people to view and manage their Windows Live Hotmail account from Outlook for free, with full contact, e-mail and e-mail folder synchronization.

I have Outlook open almost 24/7 as you know, so I’ll definitely be checking out the awkwardly named Connector. If they throw in the address too, I’ll be just peachy!

For more info, check out LiveSide.

Read: Microsoft

I would like an address!

Post ImageThe fine folks over at the LiveSide blog had the chance to interview Omar Shahine and Ellie Powers-Boyle of the Windows Live Hotmail team this morning, and they asked some great questions. The reason for the chat was to talk about Windows Live Hotmail, which started its rollout to selected markets this week. You can download the 25 minute MP3 file here, but I figured I’d transcribe the most interesting part:

“Our short term concerns are around taking our existing user base, which is currently using the namespace primarily, and making sure that they have a smooth transition. Once we feel that we’ve gotten that work sort of comfortably under our belt, we’ll move on to things like the namespace…”

So it sounds like users will be able to acquire an email address at some point. It would definitely make for a pretty cool email address – sign me up!

Read: LiveSide

The switch to Live Search is on

Post ImageRobert Scoble posted today that he thinks Microsoft’s Live Search has really improved and has closed the gap with Google. Despite that, he doesn’t think anyone is going to switch away from Google. He says he won’t because of the trust he’s built over the years using Google. I think he’ll revisit that strategy at some point.

Over the last couple weeks, I have been using both Google and Live Search. More and more frequently, I have found that the Live Search results are better than Google’s search results. Most of the time they are almost identical. This is really important. The quality of results has to be on par with Google before people will consider switching. Now that the quality is there, here are the main reasons I am switching:

  1. Switching is easy – there’s really nothing keeping you at Google except habit.
  2. is shorter than – sounds dumb, but it makes a difference! I’ve never been a big user of the search boxes in the browser.
  3. Live Search looks so much nicer than Google! Both are simple, but the extra color that Live Search does have makes it look better.
  4. The speed difference is no longer noticable. The main thing I liked about Google was its speed. Live Search is just as fast now though.

I am not saying Live Search is perfect, but neither is Google. Both have their quirks and both have room for improvement. For example, Google’s results seem to be extremely out of date at times, but their image search is far better than’s. Both Google and Live suck at feed searches – Ask seems to have the lead there.

I think most people will agree with Robert on the trust thing though. When I first started using both engines, I would always do a search with Live Search first, and then do the search in Google. The reason was basically to make sure Live Search wasn’t giving me crap. I trusted Google more. I probably still trust Google more, simply because I’ve been using it for so long. But that doesn’t mean I am not willing to give Live Search a chance.

Are you going to switch?

Read: Robert Scoble

Windows Live Dev

Post ImageFinally. Finally. That’s really all I have to say about it. If there is one thing missing from Windows Live, it’s that Microsoft basically ignored their primary and most strategic audience – developers. Well, until now that is:

Microsoft Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie on Sunday said the company is creating Internet-delivered services for corporate customers to complement its on-premise software.

Ozzie, speaking at Microsoft’s TechEd 2006 conference for business technology users, described some of the online services Microsoft intends to offer to businesses, including single sign-on and network management.

As a result, we now have Windows Live Dev. I’m going to dive into it a little further this week, and hopefully they say something about it tomorrow at realDEVELOPMENT_06. Sadly, the SDK I most want to use is not yet available (Windows Live ID).

Read: CNET