Microsoft Polishes Live Services

Microsoft on Tuesday renewed efforts to link its Windows operating system to Web-based services, relaunching its Windows Live services with the addition of several services that previously had been in testing. The company also officially released its integrated installer for the services suite.

“Microsoft today released a unified suite of free downloadable Windows Live services including a new Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Writer and Windows Live OneCare Family Safety, marking the final major release milestone for a new generation of Windows Live overall,” a Microsoft spokesperson told in an e-mail.

The relaunch marks another step in Microsoft’s efforts to develop a key part of its software-plus-services strategy. That initiative aims to join its PC software client with software available as services, as more and more users tap into such services on the Web.

In the case of Windows Live, the suite includes Microsoft-hosted online applications such as e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, social networking, event planning, photo sharing, blogging, and more.

This week’s update includes enhancements that Microsoft has spent months tweaking. In September, the company began beta testing the suite of updated services and the unified installer.

More recently, Microsoft last month also began beta testing Windows Live Events, an online party planning service. Live Events enables a user to create an event Web site and use it to manage the event by sending invitations via e-mail or Messenger and interacting with invitees’ calendars. It also allows users to share photos of the event afterwards.

With the newest update, Windows Live Events has also emerged from beta testing. However, a highly awaited calendaring service and an online storage service each remain in testing.

“The Windows Live Calendar and Windows Live SkyDrive services, while still in beta, are also included in the Windows Live family or services, and we will continue testing and evolving them over the coming months,” the spokesperson said.

At first glance, the latest Live update seems to have been received warmly, though there’s little that’s actually new to those who have been watching Windows Live closely.

“While not much has changed in the applications themselves since the last beta releases, it’s just nice to be running the final versions,” said a posting on Live services enthusiast site

At least one industry analyst, however, sees additional value in the release — for both consumers and for Microsoft.

“The biggest improvements have been in Hotmail and Contacts, as well as the downloadable Live Mail desktop client,” said Matt Rosoff, lead analyst for consumer strategies at Directions on Microsoft. “I think it could draw some users back from competing online mail services, particularly Gmail, which has hardly changed since launch and has noticeable performance problems.”

The relaunch comes as the latest stage in Microsoft’s refining and enhancing Windows Live. The company first launched its Windows Live initiative two years ago this month. At that time, the company renamed some existing MSN-branded offerings, including MSN Messenger and MSN Hotmail, as well as added brand new “Live” services.

Since then, the company has worked to create a diverse suite of services under the Windows Live aegis. It also rebranded its faltering Microsoft Passport to “Windows Live ID,” promoting it as the gateway to an emerging suite of Live services.

Microsoft today claims some 400 million active Windows Live services users. However, according to Rosoff, Live ID accounts represent a lot of those users. The company requires a Live ID account in order to open a Live Hotmail account, for example, and to access other Live services.

“The 400 million number is active Live IDs, meaning the user of that ID has logged into at least one service in the last 30 days … but there are undoubtedly many duplicates,” Rosoff told in an e-mail interview.

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