Microsoft is unwrapping new, free Web toys under its Windows Live brand that touts customized surfing and social networking. Inviting you to festoon your Internet Explorer browser with icons linking to handpicked plug-ins, the Windows Live Toolbar quietly came into final release earlier this week. It replaces the MSN Toolbar. Also notable, but unavailable until mid-August, Windows Live Spaces blogging will replace MSN Spaces. Lastly, the Windows Live Safety Center is built to protect your PC from viruses and spyware downloads. The new Toolbar, by the way, includes an antiphishing filter.
The Toolbar lets you keep multiple sites open within tabs in Internet Explorer. It adds a Web search field to IE and can help you quickly add RSS feeds to your live.com page and collect Web clippings within Onfolio. The gallery of custom buttons offers everything from Autosport news to Form Fill to Weather, Wikipedia, Xbox updates, and YouTube. It's neat that the Toolbar can detect an address on a Web page and offer to map it for you in Windows Live Local or sense a phone number and link to dial it with Windows Live Call.
The Web 2.0 renovation for Windows Live Spaces may make MSN Spaces--not to mention MySpace and Friendster--seem flat. Spaces pages will let you brand yourself with more than a text blog and a photo gallery, as Microsoft hopes to add even more playfulness to the pastime of social networking. You'll be able to play Pac-Man and Tetris with your contacts, for example. Those old-school games are among numerous badges and tools you'll be able to tack onto your Spaces account. Sure, you can already snag dynamic add-ins like these from all over the Web and paste them into your blog, but when Microsoft hands over Gadgets to its stated 120 million global Spaces users, more people will come to expect such AJAX-like features.
To keep you from clicking so much, Windows Live Spaces will let you hover over other users' images to pop up a thumbnail of their text profile. Paid users will be able to escape the ad banner atop the page. We'll test the next edition of Spaces next month. More from us on these services soon; we're rolling up our sleeves. Read here for our latest take on the Windows Live lineup.