Microsoft rolled out early private beta versions of two new Windows Live offerings today, one of which is an improved version of the Windows Photo Gallery application from Windows Vista, and the other is a Web-based file storage service. But the big news this week is that Microsoft is finally clarifying its plans for Windows Live going forward and will offer concentrated suites of Windows Live products that run on Windows PCs, Windows Mobile devices, and the Web.
Both new offerings are in private beta right now, but Microsoft plans to ship public betas later this year. Windows Live Photo Gallery Beta is a replacement and superset of Windows Live Photo Gallery, but unlike its predecessor, it will be offered to Windows XP users as well as those on Vista. The application provides photo acquisition, editing, and sharing capabilities, and this new version integrates with Windows Live services. For example, you can now post photos directly to Windows Live Spaces or Hotmail-based email from within the application via a new Share toolbar button. Windows Live Photo Gallery also includes other unique features, such as the ability to seamlessly stitch photos together into a panorama.
The long-rumored Windows Live Folders Beta (name subject to change, I was told) provides 512MB of free Web-based storage and allows 50MB uploads. Microsoft will be offering increased storage capacity at additional charges but will announce those offerings as testing progresses. The service sports a simple UI, with three main options--Personal Folders, Shared Folders, and Public Folders--offering access to storage folders with different permissions settings. Unique to this service is the ability for customers to provide shared folder access to others even if the others don't have Windows Live ID (formerly Passport) accounts.
With the introduction of these two Windows Live offerings, Microsoft is beginning to communicate how it views the Windows Live service going forward. And with this next generation version of Windows Live, which will be rolled out over the course of the year, Microsoft will bring together its previously piecemeal approach with a common look and feel, better integration across local applications and Web-based services, and anytime/anywhere access from Windows, mobile devices, and the Web. I'll have a write-up about Microsoft's evolving strategy with Windows Live in the near future on the SuperSite for Windows.