Microsoft has just announced two new Windows Live products, Windows Live Folders and Windows Live Photo Gallery. Windows Live Folders is Microsoft's online storage solution, set to compete with AOL's Xdrive, Box.net, and a lot of other startups in this market. Windows Live Photo Gallery acts as an upgrade to Vista's Windows Photo Gallery, providing tight integration with Windows Live Spaces and Windows itself.
Windows Live Folders
Windows Live Folders features a 500 MB storage limit, which is a below the industry norm, compared to competitors like Xdrive which provides 5 gigs or Box.net which provides 1 gig of storage for free. When I asked Chris Jones, Corporate VP for Windows Live Experience Program Management about the smaller than average storage space, he said, "There are lots of people who use .Mac and pay $99 a year for a gig. The reason they do is because of the great integration across the experience and how convenient it is. So we think that the storage limit isn't the interesting thing, it's how integrated the experience is and how convenient it is to go and share those files."
Unlike some of the other competing services, Windows Live Folders is more geared towards storing and sharing documents as opposed to storing music and videos. Xdrive, on the other hand actually encourages uploading music and videos by creating folders for both by default. Microsoft's take is that 500 MB is a sufficient amount of storage for documents. Jones comments, "People will really run over that limit when they are talking about storing video or storing music and that's not what we're designing the service for." While I do agree that it is important to have tight integration with other services and that is where the real value of a service like this is, I think that people are certainly going to want more storage as they quickly fill up their 500 MB. Obviously since this service is just going into beta, Microsoft will have plenty of time to see how their storage limit works out, tweak the service, and make it better for the release.
The other issue that I touched on with Chris was the potential availability of a client based application for Folders. While there aren't plans right now for a traditional client, Chris Jones said that, "We do think that in a lot of cases, the 'client' for this stuff should just be the Windows shell. By that I mean, you just create a folder, you say I want it in the cloud and it's just in the cloud, you shouldn't have to run a separate application to do that." The online storage industry will definitely benefit from the added competition of a big player like Microsoft.
Windows Live Photo Gallery
Windows Live Photo Gallery is an upgrade to Vista's Photo Gallery, replacing it on install. It can also be installed on Windows XP SP2. In Vista, it integrates heavily with features already built into the OS, making it easy to make a movie out of your pictures or burn a picture CD. One of the other features that was demoed was "photo stitching." Basically this consists of taking a series of photos in the same location and stitching them together to make a big panoramic photo. I haven't had any hands on time with Photo Gallery yet, so I will probably have more to say on this later, but for the time being, I can say that there really does not seem to be a reason to not upgrade to Windows Live Photo Gallery, especially if you are already using Vista.
Both of these products are being released into limited beta with around 5,000 to 10,000 testers initially. We should see the betas expanding throughout the summer with an eventual full release sometime this winter.