Microsoft Plans E-Mail, IM, Blog, And Photo Sharing Suite

The common theme for the Windows Live suite is that all of its apps combine a rich Windows client application with Internet services that add power to those apps.
Microsoft Wednesday announced plans to integrate disparate Windows Live products for instant messaging, e-mail, blog authoring and photo sharing into a single downloadable suite for consumers.

Meanwhile, the company also announced two new Windows Live products, including the long rumored Windows Live Folders file sharing application and Windows Live Photo Gallery for photo sharing. Windows Live has been a confusing brand for many, so a downloadable suite could bring some much needed commonality.

The new suite of applications will include Windows Live Messenger for instant messaging; the currently beta Windows Live Mail for unified e-mail that could include Hotmail and any other standard e-mail service, Windows Live Writer for blog authoring and Windows Live Photo Gallery. Further down the road, Microsoft hopes to add Windows Live OneCare, the company's consumer security service. There will also be a mobile version of the suite.

"This release is going to start changing perceptions," predicts Brian Hall, Microsoft's general manager for Windows Live. "By creating a single suite and a single integrated service, it will become much easier for users to understand what Windows Live actually is. We're focused on making sure Windows Live is the best place for communicating, sharing and accessing things from anywhere and making sure you and your stuff is protected."

The common theme for the suite is that all of its apps combine a rich Windows client application with Internet services that add power to those apps. That's a hallmark of the company's larger software plus services strategy. Take the new Windows Live Photo Gallery, for example. Currently in private beta -- not anyone can use it just yet -- it's an all-in-one photo management and sharing solution. After the user plugs a camera into the computer, Windows Live Photo Gallery will import the photos, allow the user to create libraries and tags, and then share the photos to either a public or private Web site. Microsoft is partnering with online printing companies to make sure photos uploaded via Windows Live Photo Gallery can get printed online, and Hall says the company wants to work in a way for users to publish their photos to other commonly-used online photo sharing services.

Hall isn't pegging a release date for the suite (or even giving it a name), but will say that the company will make full details available in the August or September time frame. When released, the suite will include a common installer and a common update service, though people will be able to decide which applications they want to include in their download.

Still, the suite doesn't cover some other Windows Live services like search and Windows Live Expo online classifieds that today reside entirely online or even Windows Live Toolbar, which allows users to access search, online bookmarks and Live Spaces with one click. And Microsoft isn't yet announcing any one go-to Web site for all Windows Live products., currently dedicated to search, will continue being primarily a search site, Hall says. Today, it just has links to other Live services in the top left of the page, the list of links hidden under a scroll-over icon.

Along with Windows Live Photo Gallery and plans for the Windows Live suite, Microsoft also announced Windows Live Folders, a hosted service for consumers to share files. Windows Live Folders allows people to share their files publicly or in restricted folders that can only be viewed by certain people or just by the person uploading the files. Another service, Windows Live FolderShare, aims to help users synchronize files across multiple computers. Hall says the plan is to integrate the two over the longer term.

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer