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Microsoft Releases Windows Live Software Suite

Windows Live Suite is a set of Web-connected applications for Windows that can be installed with a 130-Mbyte download.

Microsoft's Windows Live brand of software and services has sputtered along for much of the last two years, sowing confusion about what exactly it is and what it isn't. On Tuesday, Microsoft is bringing a bit of clarity to Windows Live by making what it calls the Windows Live Suite available for a download.

Windows Live Suite is a set of Web-connected applications for Windows that can be installed with a 130-Mbyte download that includes blog publishing software (Windows Live Writer), an e-mail client (Windows Live Mail), an instant messenger client (Windows Live Messenger), photo sharing and photo management software (Windows Live Photo Gallery), and a tool to set Web-browsing permissions for a family (Windows Live Family Safety).

With Windows Live Suite, the company is releasing the first integrated suite of client, Internet-connected applications, said Microsoft's general manager for Windows Live, Brian Hall, in an interview. That may technically be true, but the likes of Google and 37Signals might argue whether it's even relevant. Google's Google Pack, for example, bundles up to 13 applications -- though they're arguably not integrated once installed -- into a single download and largely duplicates and extends what consumers will be able to do at first with Windows Live Suite.

That said, Windows Live Suite is a hallmark of what Microsoft calls its "software plus services" strategy that asserts the primacy of software that blends the best of desktop, server, and Internet-based apps. Windows Live Photo Gallery, for example, lets people browse their photos with a desktop app that also has the capability to let them share photos online and manage how they'll appear.

The current version of Windows Live Suite might seem modest, but there's no doubt Microsoft has much bigger things in mind for Windows Live. The endgame for Windows Live Suite, Hall said, is to create a destination for people to do whatever they need on the Web, and do so in a way that's open so that people can choose which services they want to use, but have Microsoft as a unifying factor.

For example, Windows Live Photo Gallery lets people share photos on Flickr, not just on Microsoft's own site. "My goal is that when I want to access my stuff, to get my mail, etc., to have one place to go," Hall said. "Facebook is sort of an extreme version of this. It all comes together into one communication dashboard, but it's done within that walled garden. What our goal is to pull together all your communications and all your activities in the Internet so the centerpiece is you, not all the individual services."

Windows Live itself seems to be one of Microsoft's biggest projects. Though Microsoft has avoided the subject, Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie has long been working on a secretive project called Windows Live Core. The company also is in the midst of massive investments of hundreds of millions of dollars in new data centers, including new construction near Chicago reported only last week. Microsoft didn't respond to requests for comment on either of those efforts in time for this story.

Windows Live Suite's release is part of a wave of Windows Live announcements. Windows Live Events, an event planner in the vein of Evite that was unveiled last month, comes out of testing on Tuesday, as does a new homepage for the Windows Live Suite at A new online calendaring service, Windows Live Calendar, is going into broad testing.

Microsoft's social networking site, Windows Live Spaces, is getting a number of upgrades, including the ability for users to share photos on Facebook from within Windows Live Spaces. That could foreshadow a much tighter relationship between the sites in the wake of Microsoft's recent $240 million investment in Facebook.

Going forward, Hall said that Microsoft's online storage service, Windows Live SkyDrive, will be part of Windows Live Suite in some way, as eventually might be Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare security service. Hall also hinted at future integration between Microsoft's new Office Live Workspaces collaboration service and Windows Live.

Hall's not concerned people may perceive Microsoft as offering duplicate products online and elsewhere. "We will make sure each individual experience is rich and integrated with the other experience," whether it be in the office, on the Web, with desktop or phone software, Hall said. "The concept of one service hosting my mail, one service hosting my contacts, people still get that there's one service providing all of this. The most important thing is not to have one experience; it's to do the best of breed job."

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