Microsoft’s ‘Call to Action’

Microsoft is introducing Windows Live Folders and Windows Live Photo Gallery, the next batch of online services associated with its Windows Live strategy.

This generation of Windows Live services is also the first release under Steven Sinofsky, who runs the overall Live engineering effort, and Chris Jones, who leads the program management side for Live.

Brian Hall, general manager of Microsoft’s Windows Live business group, explained that the new duo at the top will emphasize the importance of making Windows Live into a more cohesive package and clarify its benefits to customers.

“Our call to action to users to get Windows Live is becoming far more clear: you get the suite and you sign-up for an identity,” Hall said. “When you sign up for that identity you get provisioned for Hotmail, you create a set of Windows Live contacts, you get an automatically created space also that when you share things people can access them. The strategy and its delivery is becoming much more cohesive with this release and we are excited about that.”

At Mix 07, Microsoft’s chief software architect shed more light on its software-plus-services strategy. Click here to read more.

This next generation of Windows Live will involve communication and sharing, like the photo sharing solution, which is facilitated by a rich Windows application and a general purpose file-sharing service through Windows Live Folders, Hall said.

Microsoft is moving ahead with the rollout of client applications and online services associated with its strategy, releasing private betas for Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Folders on June 26.

Both betas will initially only be made available to a select 5,000 testers, but public betas will follow later.

The client applications will also be made available at no cost when released generally, since revenue will come from advertisements displayed with the associated online services.

Windows Live Folders, essentially a hosted storage system for accessing and sharing files, publicly and using access controls via contacts, will give customers 500MB of online storage at no charge. The maximum file size supported will be 50MB.

Live Folders is also setting the stage for the common storage infrastructure that will underpin many other services in the future.

“This is both a Web application that I can go to in order to access and share files, as well as a common storage infrastructure that will underpin an increasing number of our services going forward. This is the first step of that common storage infrastructure,” Hall said.

The beta for this service will be initially rolled out in the United States, and tester feedback will be used to develop future versions of the service.

The Windows Live Photo Gallery beta is initially being rolled out to testers the United States—in English and Spanish—as well as China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Japan and Spain, with other countries to follow, said Hall.

The service is an upgrade to the Photo Gallery found in Windows Vista, and lets both Vista and Windows XP SP2 customers share, edit, organize and print photos and digital home videos, which can also be published to a users’ Windows Live Space. There is no limit planned for the amount of photos stored this way, he said.

Click here to read more about why Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says Windows Live is a top priority.

“This is a Windows application that a user will download and install, and which is a solution to manage and share photos, to capture and edit them, burn them, or make a movie out of. It also brings really simple and flexible photo sharing on Windows Live Spaces,” Hall said.

Microsoft launched Windows Live Hotmail after more than two years in development and testing by 20 million beta testers. Click here to read more.

Microsoft also plans to deliver, later this summer, a beta of the Unified Installer for the Windows Live suite. This will be a way for users to get a single installation of all of the available Live applications for their personal PC.

“This will include a number of Windows Live services, from the new Photo Gallery, to Messenger and Mail as well as Writer. During the install process, users will also be able to provision and sign-up for future updates and services, such as creating their Space and signing up for Hotmail, Hall said.

The installable applications will work with both Vista and Windows XP SP2, while the Web applications will be available to everyone.

These latest two beta releases follow those for Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Writer. A number of additional beta releases are expected in the next couple of months that will really start to show the integrated experience Microsoft is aiming to create with Windows Live.

Online products and services that have already rolled out include Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Spaces, and Windows Live OneCare.

The strategy is, in part, a reaction to the growing number of free, Web-based services being offered by Google and others, and Microsoft is playing catch-up to existing services like photo sharing from Yahoo’s Flickr.

Another aspect of strategy is to avoid advertising on most client applications, thereby providing a better overall experience.

To read more about the three Windows Live Mobile Services Microsoft has debuted, click here.

Microsoft hopes to parlay success for home PCs and WAP-enabled phones into success in the office environment.

“You see that with mail, where we first created Hotmail and then Windows Live mail. In some cases there will be another step, the work experience, like with Outlook Connector and Writer. Small businesses, for example, will want these installed,” Hall said.

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