Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave his maiden Consumer Electronic Show keynote yesterday and if it was just as soporific as Bill Gates’ past performances, it mercifully skipped the goofy "future tech" skits that Microsoft’s PR folks used to put Gates through. In a nutshell, the message was "Windows 7, Windows 7, Windows 7" plus the obligatory appearance by Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices chief Robbie Bach to once again whistle past the graveyard and say that everything on his patch was swell.
“I’m thrilled to announce the availability of the Windows 7 beta, which is on track to deliver simplicity and reliability,” Ballmer said. “Windows 7 and Windows Live are part of an incredible pipeline of consumer technology that is making it easier than ever for people to communicate, share and get more done.”
The beta version of Windows 7, Microsoft’s next-generation PC operating system, can be downloaded today by MSDN, TechBeta and TechNet customers. Consumers who want to test-drive the beta will be able to download it beginning Jan. 9 at http://www.microsoft.com/windows7.
Microsoft also announced the global availability of Windows Live, a free suite of communications and sharing applications.
Actually that’s not all the ten thousand different Windows Live applications, but just Windows Live Essentials, the bundle of Windows applications you will have to download to give Windows 7 the same functionality as Windows XP. In which respect there was good news for Dell customers:
In February, to offer a comprehensive experience for consumers to connect, share and personalize their content, Dell will offer preloaded Windows Live Essentials (a free suite of applications for instant messaging, e-mail and photos that complement Windows Live on the Web) and Live Search on a majority of its new consumer and small-business PCs globally.
No word on how much money changed hands, but bear in mind that Dell is paying to put Windows on their PCs so with this deal they are merely getting a discount for also preloading Live Essentials and Live Search. I am sure Microsoft’s lawyers are making sure it is a separate accounting entry however.
Also announced was the Verizon mobile search deal leaked yesterday:
Under a new five-year relationship that covers mobile search and advertising, Verizon subscribers in the U.S. will be able to use Live Search to search for local business and shopping information; access maps and directions; perform general Internet searches; and find ring tones, games, wallpaper and other online mobile products and services.
More succinctly, Microsoft’s Live Search will become the preferred Web search on Verizon mobiles.
Microsoft’s Windows Live Essentials suite of downloadable applications was formally unveiled today:
The Windows Live betas we’ve been playing with for a while now have just received another refresh. As of today, the page at http://download.live.com has been updated with a new set of betas, now called the “Windows Live Essentials.” Here, you’ll find the latest versions of Messenger, Mail, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer, Toolbar, and Family Safety, as well as additional programs like the Microsoft Office Outlook Connector, the Office Live Add-in and Microsoft Silverlight. All the programs are available via one installer that lets you choose which programs you want installed or not installed.
If the Windows Live nomenclature is confusing in this context (since these are not Web applications), refer to Ed Bott’s elucidation:
A handful of applications that were previously included with Windows will no longer ship with the core operating system [Windows 7]. This list includes Windows Mail (known as Outlook Express in Windows XP), Windows Movie Maker, and Windows Photo Gallery. (Windows Messenger, which was included with Windows XP, was dropped from the main OS package before the debut of Windows Vista.)
The Windows 7 versions of all these programs will be offered to Windows customers as individual options in a package collectively dubbed Windows Live Essentials. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be browser-based products. They’re going to be traditional standalone Windows applications, with the crucial distinction that the primary delivery (and update) mechanism will be the Windows Live website. Each of these products has the capability to integrate with web-based Windows Live Services, but they’ll work just fine on their own.
I’m still not wild about the idea that purchasers of shiny new Windows 7 PCs will have to download Windows Live Essentials to get back to the functionality they had in Windows XP although Microsoft will undoubtedly try to get the OEMs to preload at least some portion of Windows Live Essentials.
Last night Microsoft announced Windows Live Wave 3 and besides the expected updates of existing Windows Live offerings, there was some social networking added to the stew:
Microsoft Corp. today announced the next generation of Windows Live, an integrated set of online services that make it easier and more fun for consumers to communicate and share with the people they care about most. The new generation of Windows Live includes updated experiences for photo sharing, e-mail, instant messaging, as well as integration with multiple third-party sites. The release also includes Windows Live Essentials, free downloadable software that enhances consumers’ Windows experience by helping them simplify and enjoy digital content scattered across their PC, phone and on Web sites.
Translation: Just as before, there are some purely Web pieces and some downloadable pieces of Windows Live and the latter are termed Windows Live Essentials and will complement Windows 7.
Consumers today are creating online content and sharing it in many places across the Web. To help make is simple for the more than 460 million Windows Live customers to keep their friends up to date, Microsoft is collaborating with leading companies including Flickr, LinkedIn Corp., Pandora Media Inc., Photobucket Inc., Twitter, WordPress and Yelp Inc. to integrate activities on third-party sites into Windows Live through a new profile and What’s New feed. The new Windows Live also gives consumers the added convenience of having a central place to organize and manage information.
“Think of Windows Live as the single place where people using our e-mail, messaging and photo-sharing services can stay connected,” said Chris Jones, corporate vice president of Windows Live Experience Program Management at Microsoft. “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.”
In a nutshell, Microsoft is creating a Windows Live “dashboard” for individual information management incorporating the activities of the users and their friends across a number of non-Microsoft as well as Microsoft sites.
Some other changes:
Microsoft is currently in the middle of phase 3 of a five phase rollout of Wave 3 with no crisp endpoint date. More detail on all of this is available in the Windows Live Wave 3 Reviewer’s Guide.
My first take is that Microsoft has done a nice job of trying to bring order out of the Windows Live chaos, although there are still too many “products” with the Windows Live brand confusing the picture. Think of how much nicer it would have been if Windows Live had always been a unitary product that periodically got feature upgrades. But I digress – Wave 3 is nonetheless an important step for unifying Windows Live even if it never attracts a Facebook-type audience.
Microsoft’s latest Windows Live offering is for the most part not a new service at all, but rather a one-time download that includes a subset of the available Live applications, much like the Google Pack.
Called Windows Live Essentials, the program also features a new application called Windows Live Dashboard. The Dashboard would show the user what Live programs are installed and what is available for download, rather than requiring the user to visit the Windows Live Ideas Web site.
Although it was not detailed, the new application seems to be optimized at this time for Windows XP SP2 using Internet Explorer 6.x. At least two programs are slated to come with the download, Windows Live Messenger and Live Mail Desktop beta, although it is likely that other applications would be included as well.