Microsoft is adding photo sharing and Web-based hosted storage to Windows Live on Wednesday, though for now the services will be limited to a few thousand preselected testers.
The first new service, Windows Live Photo Gallery beta, is essentially an upgraded version of the Windows Photo Gallery that is built into Windows Vista, though it will also work on Windows XP machines. The service expands upon the photo management program by allowing people to upload their photos to a Windows Live Spaces blog.
Microsoft's second new service, tentatively dubbed Windows Live Folders, is essentially an online-storage tool that people can use to back up files, share them with friends or post them publicly. In the current beta program, testers are being given 500 megabytes of online storage. Though they can share files with anyone they wish, people who are invited to use a shared folder have to sign up for a Windows Live ID for authentication, said Brian Hall, general manager of the Windows Live business group.
The moves represent the first in a wave of new services that will roll out in the coming months, Hall said. While Microsoft has spent the past few months winnowing its list of services and updating its mainstay Hotmail, it is now looking to add new services and bring tighter integration of its differing products.
"This is the second generation" of Windows Live, said Hall.
Microsoft announced its Windows Live effort in November 2005 in what was seen as a response to free, Web-based services from Google and others.
In both photo sharing and online storage, Microsoft is catching up to rivals. Yahoo's Flickr photo-sharing site is one of the most popular on the Web, and Yahoo Briefcase has been around for several years, for example.
Not surprisingly, Google is also eyeing this area, with a GDrive storage service, rumored to be in the works. Google is also a contender in the photo space after purchasing photo management company Picasa three years ago.
"It's a small first step," Hall acknowledged. "It gives an integrated way to share files generically with Hotmail and Messenger users."
The new services are part of a broader refresh of Windows Live, the first to bear the imprint of Steven Sinofsky who was named in 2006 to oversee development of both Windows and Windows Live. Microsoft will announce improvements, including improved parental control, to its OneCare security service in August or September, Hall said. Also on tap for Microsoft is a service that will allow people to install multiple Windows Live services in a single step and keep them current with a common updater.
Microsoft has struggled in its attempt to expand its array of Web services, though its Hotmail and Messenger both have huge audiences. Meanwhile, Google is charging ahead in offering productivity applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets, to people on the Web for free--a threat to Microsoft's core desktop business.
By creating desktop applications that tie to Windows Live services, Microsoft is playing to its strengths, said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff. The move to tie Windows Live services more closely to parts of the operating system also helps explain some otherwise confusing branding, he said.
"That's where the brand 'Windows' starts to make some sense," he said.