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Windows Live Services That Make Windows 7 Better (part 5) - Windows Live Essentials

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11/27/2012 6:51:51 PM

13. Windows Live Essentials

Why you want it: It provides a single downloadable version of Microsoft's best Windows Live applications.

Type: Suite of Windows applications, plus some related products and services.

Travel writer Rick Steves likes to refer to a favorite European destination as a "cultural bouillabaisse," and this moniker might equally be applied to Microsoft's Windows Live Essentials, a quirky collection of unique Windows applications that can improve your Windows 7 experience in interesting ways. Windows Live Essentials arose out of a need to aggregate the various downloadable software applications that Microsoft offers via Windows Live. It did this for two reasons. One, these applications are integrated in various ways and thus work better together. (That said, you are free to download only those parts of the suite you actually want or need.) Two, it's simpler to provide access to these applications via a single installer. Otherwise, you'd have to hunt around the Web to find the applications you wanted.

Windows Live Essentials (download.live.com) provides access to five downloadable applications as well as a number of other components. These include Windows Live Mail (an e-mail application that replaces Windows Mail and Outlook Express from previous Windows versions), Windows Live Messenger (an instant messaging and person-to-person communications tool), Windows Live Photo Gallery (a photo management and editing solution that replaces Windows Photo Gallery from Windows Vista), Windows Live Writer (a surprisingly powerful blog editor), and Windows Live Movie Maker, an updated version of the Movie Maker application from previous Windows versions.

Windows Live Essentials also includes Windows Live Toolbar, an Internet Explorer add-on that makes it easy to access Windows Live services from your favorite browser; Windows Live Family Safety, a parental controls solution that augments and improves the built-in Windows 7 parental controls feature; Microsoft Office Live Add-in, a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook 2003 and 2007 that enables users to access Windows Live Mail, Calendar, and People from that popular productivity application; and Silverlight, Microsoft's answer to Adobe Flash.

The suite's integrated installer, shown in Figure 16, enables you to choose which Windows Live applications you'd like to install.

Figure 16. The various programs in Windows Live Essentials can be installed together or individually via a single installer.

The next sections take a quick look at each of these programs.

13.1. Windows Live Mail

Why you want it: This is a surprisingly solid e-mail application that aggregates multiple accounts, including those from Hotmail.

Type: Windows application.

Figure 17 shows Windows Live Mail in action.

Figure 17. Windows Live Mail is based on the same technologies as Windows Mail, but offers many more features.

13.2. Windows Live Messenger

Why you want it: It's an excellent way to communicate with others around the world via text, audio, or video chat.

Type: Windows application.

Windows Live Messenger replaces MSN Messenger as Microsoft's mainstream instant messaging (IM) application for consumers. In truth, the term "instant messaging" doesn't really do this application justice. Although it can indeed be used to hold text-, audio-, and video-based chats online with your friends, co-workers, and other contacts, Windows Live Messenger is blurring the line with telephone-like functionality thanks to its integration of Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies. That means you can make long-distance and international phone calls via Windows Live Messenger for a small fraction of what you're probably being charged by the phone company. It might be time to invest in a PC headset. Windows Live Messenger is shown in Figure 18.

Figure 18. Windows Live Messenger offers IM functionality and can be used to make PC-to-phone calls.

The latest version of Windows Live Messenger is the most extensive update yet of Microsoft's popular IM client and it is being refined to form the Windows-based hub for the social features in Windows Live. Windows Live Messenger will integrate with the Favorites and Groups features in Windows Live People. The biggest change, however, is the What's New feed, which works with the consolidated What's New feed that's available across all of your Windows Live and third-party services.


Windows Live Messenger can also be used to communicate with friends using Yahoo! Messenger, a competing instant messaging application.

13.3. Windows Live Photo Gallery

Why you want it: It's a superb update to the Windows Photo Gallery application from Windows Vista.

Type: Windows application.

Windows 7 now ships with a basic photo viewing solution, but if you're looking for more advanced features—like photo editing and management—then Microsoft offers Windows Live Photo Gallery, which is shown in Figure 19.

Figure 19. Windows Live Photo Gallery is a nice upgrade for Windows 7's built-in Windows Photo Gallery.

Windows Live Photo Gallery provides several important improvements to Vista's Windows Photo Gallery and is a must for anyone using Windows 7. These improvements include a dramatically better photo importer, new editing tricks, a cool new photo panorama function, and integration with various online services, including Windows Live Space and even non-Microsoft services such as Flickr. 

13.4. Windows Live Writer

Why you want it: It's the ultimate blog editor.

Type: Windows application.

While every blogging solution available offers a Web form of some sort where aspiring bloggers can post their writings and other blog items, such forms are relatively primitive. Enter Windows Live Writer, a superb blog editor that works with Windows Live Spaces, yes, but also with virtually every other blog service on Earth.

Shown in Figure 20, Windows Live Writer features an attractive user interface and an amazingly complete feature set. We've tested Writer with Windows Live Space, Blogger, and Community Server, and the results are fantastic. In fact, we both use it for our own blogs.

Figure 20. Windows Live Writer adopts the look and feel of your blog so it feels like you're editing right on the Web.

Windows Live Writer works with common blog features such as categories, and includes inline spell checking; hyperlink, image, photo, and video insertion capabilities; and awesome text-editing features. You can even upload images to Google's Picasa Web service, in addition to Windows Live Spaces. Writer is an impressive little niche application that many people are going to find quite advantageous. It's that good.

13.5. Windows Live Movie Maker

Why you want it: It provides basic video-editing features and Web services integration.

Type: Windows application.

Windows Live Movie Maker includes various editing features, effects, transitions, and themes, as well as numerous ways to share the movies you create via the Internet, optical discs, or your TV, cell phone, or portable video device. Windows Live Movie Maker, shown in Figure 21, also supports a new plug-in model, similar to other Windows Live applications, so that third parties can provide other capabilities and format/codec support.

Figure 21. Windows Live Movie Maker

Because Windows 7 no longer ships with a video-editing solution, Windows Live Movie Maker is now the preferred application for this need. 

13.6. Windows Live Toolbar

Why you want it: You're a heavy user of IE and Microsoft's Live services.

Type: Windows application.

Anyone who's used Internet Explorer is probably familiar with the notion of helper toolbars that include such things as integrated search boxes, pop-up blockers, and a variety of other useful features. Given how advanced Internet Explorer is—it includes, by default, both an integrated Search box and a pop-up blocker, for example—you might think that these toolbars would be a thing of the past. That, alas, is not true; and while the Googles and Yahoo!s of the world are still offering their own brands of Internet Explorer–compatible toolbars, Microsoft has one, too. Not surprisingly, it's called Windows Live Toolbar.

Windows Live Toolbar, shown in Figure 22, includes numerous potentially useful features, such as smart menus that enable you to find any location on a map simply by highlighting the address on a Web page. There's a form-fill function that saves commonly typed Web form information (name, address, telephone number, and so on), sparing you from having to manually enter that data repeatedly. The toolbar also integrates with a number of useful Windows Live online services, giving you one-click access to such things as Windows Live Spaces (blogging) and Windows Live Mail.

Figure 22. The Windows Live Toolbar integrates with Internet Explorer and adds a number of useful features.

Why would you want such a thing? Toolbars like the Windows Live Toolbar are aimed at heavy users of a particular Web services company, so if you have bought into Microsoft's online vision—which is absolutely okay, by the way—the Windows Live toolbar might be useful to you.

The real appeal of the toolbar, frankly, isn't what is installed by default, but rather what you can add to it: Microsoft and its partners offer a wide variety of toolbar buttons that extend the toolbar, and thus the browser itself, in very interesting ways. One excellent example is the Windows Live Favorites button, which enables you to save your Favorites up in the cloud, in a single place, rather than maintain different Favorites collections on each PC. That's a nifty feature. Whether it's worth the download is your call.

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