Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled a number of new Windows Live products and services. The company is now offering beta versions of its Windows Live Search service, its Windows Live Toolbar, and has dramatically updated its Live.com Web portal. According to the company, today's updates are just part of a sweeping series of Windows Live product announcements that will unroll over the next few months.
"We're unveiling a range of innovations that deliver an outstanding level of power and simplicity to search," said Christopher Payne, the corporate vice president of Windows Live Search at Microsoft. "Combined with the rich browsing and integrated searching services delivered by Windows Live Toolbar and Live.com, the new search service offers customers the next generation of unified services today."
The Windows Live services are improving and multiplying so quickly these days that it's hard to keep up. First, Microsoft is unveiling the first version of Windows Live Search, which is based on MSN Search technology but offers numerous unique new features. Microsoft is incorporating new UI bits into the Windows Live Search interface that allow users to dynamically control how search results are displayed, and to perform "search within this site" sub-searches that are based on particular search results. Image search results are displayed dynamically as well, with pop-out meta-data displays when images are moused-over. Microsoft is also integrating RSS feed searching into Windows Live Search, so that customers can find the feeds they want and them easily add them to their Live.com home page.
The new Windows Live Toolbar works in many ways like the MSN Search Toolbar, adding such functionality as anti-phishing and pop-up blocking. But the Windows Live Toolbar includes a number of unique features as well, including the integration of a tool called Onfolio, which was acquired along with the company of the same name. The Onfolio tool lets Windows Live Toolbar users collect information from Web sites, organize it on their PCs, and then share it with others if desired. (Onfolio previously charged for its product, but the Microsoft version will be free.) The new toolbar also detects RSS feeds, allowing users to easily add these feeds to their Live.com home page.
Speaking of Live.com, Microsoft will unveil a dramatic redesign of this Web portal some time today. The redesign will help new users more easily integrate RSS-based content into their home pages, and provide obvious access to a wide collection of gadgets, which display dynamic content of their own. Microsoft is also using Live.com as an informational front-end about the various Windows Live services.
In a briefing earlier this week, MSN lead product manager Larry Grothaus demonstrated the new Windows Live products and services to me. "We're starting to bring our services integration points to the surface, and consolidate the look and feel across all of those experiences," he said, referring to work now being done to ensure that all of the Windows Live services and products provide a consistent UI. "It will all start to come together over the new few months."
As noted previously, Microsoft has many plans for Windows Live. One small but potentially exciting upcoming update will make Windows Live Search more usable than alternatives like the Google search engine: A new feature called Search Macros will allow users to build custom search strings and then save them locally and share them with other users. For example, you might want to search for specific product types, but only search a certain number of specific Web sites, such as bargain online retailers. With Search Macros, users will be able to visually construct these types of queries and then save them for later use. "We're taking the power of the tool and making it more useful," Grothaus said. "Customizable search macro capabilities are coming."
The beta versions of Windows Live Search and the redesign of Live.com are available now at the Live.com Web site. The Windows Live Toolbar beta will be available later today.