Windows Live: It’s Live! I Think! Partially! Stay Tuned for More!

windowslive1Here’s an undeniable fact about Microsoft: It’s congenitally incapable of springing surprises on anyone. When Google unleashes a new service or improvements to an existing one, it’s typically with no warning, and the new stuff is available immediately or within a few hours to all comers. Microsoft, on the other hand, tends to give advance warning. And then talk publicly about a private beta that isn’t available to everyone. And then do a formal unveiling. Followed by actual availability. Sometimes of part but not all of what was announced.

That’s certainly the situation with the new “Wave 3” upgrades to the company’s Windows Live services. They’ve been public knowledge since at least early this year. Then there was an official announcement three weeks ago. And today the company has announced that the first of the new services–Wave 1 of Wave 3, I guess–are rolling out to everyone over the next twenty-four hours. With more to come.

The new items include updates to Windows Live’s Home, Events, Spaces, and SkyDrive, and new services including Groups, Photos, and Profile. Hotmail received a recent upgrade and subsequent tweaks based on user feedback, and an additional referesh is promised for next year. Desktop Windows Live apps such as Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, and the Writer blogging tool were already in public beta before today’s rollout. Meanwhile, Windows Live Search underwent some cosmetic changes a few months ago and there’s a rumor it may change its name to Kumo. And Microsoft keeps talking about other items to come, but doesn’t say what they are. I’m beginning to get a headache just thinking about all this…

Microsoft says that one key goal is to impose some consistency on all of Windows Live’s many services–through, for instance, a toolbar that stays at the top no matter where you are. It’s a noble goal–and it’s hard to gauge its success at the moment, since some new Live services are indeed live, and others aren’t.

Like I said, Google tends to just announce things when they’re available. It also doesn’t do package announcements of multiple services, nor does it try to tie everything together with an umbrella moniker a la Windows Live. Stuff is ready when it’s ready, and there’s no particular consistency of branding–the Google world has room for everything from Google Apps to Gmail to Picasa to YouTube. And yet Google has done a much better job than Microsoft historically of releasing disparate services that have some overarching philosophies about look, feel, and functionality.

Anyhow, Windows Live is much too ambitious and far-flung for me to try and review it all in one place. So I’m going to look at its components separately–starting very soon…


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