Windows Live Adding Social Features

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Microsoft has announced the latest iteration of its Windows Live services will update existing Windows Live services (like photo sharing, email, and instant messaging), present Windows Live services as an integrated offering, and work with services from third parties (like Flickr, LinkedIn, Pandora, PhotoBucket, and more) to make it easier for Windows Live users to communicate with their friends and families…and have fun doing it. The goal of the Windows Live makeover is to present Windows Live services as one-stop location—or, ahem, portal—where users can centrally access and manage their online activities. And, of course, if users base their online lives around Windows Live, that increases the number of eyeballs on Microsoft services…which increases Microsoft’s profile in the eyes of online advertisers.

“Think of Windows Live as the single place where people using our email, messaging, and photo-sharing services can stay connected,” said Microsoft’s VP for Windows Live Experience program management Chris Jones, in a statement. “Our customers have friends across the Web. They communicate through many unconnected Web services and want access to it all from a single location—without worrying about how it’s done. Now Windows Live takes care of that, with an integrated personal communication service that works across the Web with optimized experiences on the PC and mobile phone.”

Under the new services, users will be able to add components from third-party sites to their Windows Live profiles, and have updates to those services by other WIndows Live users automatically propagate to Windows Live. Other new features include a “what’s new” feed of activities and on-the-go access to WIndows Live SkyDrive online storage from “virtually any device”—SkyDrive will also offer up to 25 GB of storage, a significant increase from the previous 5 GB offering. Windows Live Messenger will also be able to pick up updates from contacts on other third party services and enable group chat with up to 20 people. Windows Live Hotmail is also promising 80 percent more effective spam filtering, and the ability to combine multiple email accounts. A revamped Windows Live Groups service will offer a shared calendar, email, storage, and IM service for online collaboration.

The new Windows Live features will roll out in “coming weeks” in the United States, and will eventually roll out to 54 countries in 48 languages.

Although Microsoft has lined up dozens of third party services for integration with its revamped Windows Live platform, two major players are missing: social networking giants Facebook and MySpace. (And ironically, Microsoft has a small ownership stake in Facebook).

Nonetheless, the revised Windows Live services are a strategic move on Microsoft’s part to put itself at the center of Windows users’ online lives and get them used to the idea of relying on Microsoft online services. After all, when Windows 7 debuts, Microsoft plans to slim down the number of features that ship “on disc” with the operating system, instead steering users towards online offerings.

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