-- Microsoft is giving Windows Live a serious makeover. The company today announced plans to roll out a wide range of new beta Windows Live services intended to help you aggregate all aspects of your online life--including several popular third-party services--under one Microsoft roof.
Windows Live emerged from its initial beta incarnation only a year ago. The new services dovetail with new versions of those initial services as well as with downloadable Windows Live Essential desktop applications, all already available in beta form.
The updated services include Hotmail (which now offers unlimited storage, faster performance and an improved spam filter) and Windows Live SkyDrive (which upped its free online storage limit from 5GB to 25GB of data).
The big news, though, is the announcement of relationships with over 50 third-party services ranging from Digg, Flickr, and Pandora to StumbleUpon, Twitter, and Wordpress. Through these partnerships Microsoft is able to create what it calls a "What's New" feed that can be shared with other Windows Live friends via your Live Messenger account, your Windows Live Home page, and other Windows Live services (see image).
What's New feeds can be personalized to reflect any updates you make or receive, either from a Windows Live service or one of the third-party services. For example, What's New could show Tweets from your Twitter friends, or let your friends know that you've posted new photos to Flickr.
The beta online services announced today will not be available immediately, but will be introduced gradually to Windows Live users starting in December, Microsoft says.
The new Windows Live services include:
Windows Live Profile: This service, which Microsoft envisions as a possible browser home page, allows you to manage what you want to share with others. Here, for example, you can choose to broadcast a complete list of all your What's New feeds, and to view updates from your friends.
Windows Live Photo: A photo sharing and photo organizing site optimized to work with Windows Live Photo Gallery (a Windows Live Essentials desktop application).
Windows Live People: A central repository for storing information about and keeping in touch with all your online contacts, be they address book entries, Windows Messenger buddies (Microsoft's partners do not include any of the other major IM services such as AOL's or Yahoo's), Photobucket friends, fellow Yelp users, and so on.
Windows Live Groups: A bulletin board for teams, clubs, and friends who wish to collaborate online. Tools include shared calendars, photo and file hosting, and group or individual chat.
Windows Live FrameIT: An online service that works in conjunction with Net-connected digital picture frames. FrameIT allows you to display your RSS feeds or Windows Live Photo gallery on digital pictures frames made by PanDigtal, PhotoVu, ViewSonic, and others.
In addition to rolling out new services, Microsoft has given Windows Live a facelift. The overall interface is now less crowded with blocks of personalized content.
Another nice customization feature is the ability to add a personalized slideshow in the upper right-hand corner of your Windows Live Home page. The slideshow (see below) images are pulled from your Windows Live Photo collection.
Microsoft makes some serious strides into the future of cloud computing with this update to Windows Live. I like what I see, but if MIcrosoft is serious about aggregating online services, it should bring in more of the giant services that already have millions of members. Noticeably missing from Microsoft's long list of partners are AOL, Facebook, Google, and MySpace.