How long have we been hearing the next version of Microsoft's Windows Live "Wave 4" services are "coming soon"? I've lost count. But on April 21, Chris Jones, Corporate Vice President of the Windows Live Experience, said the same again. in an official capacity.
Microsoft will be rolling out sometime in the next few weeks to a small group of select testers the "Wave 4" versions of the new Hotmail, Live Messenger and Windows Live Essentials, Jones said in an April 21 blog post.
Update (April 22): As one Microsoft official reminded me, Microsoft's Windows Live team has not publicly committed to a delivery date for Windows Live Wave 4 before now. However, a number of my readers have said they've been hearing privately about Windows Live Wave 4 due dates and schedules for months. Various services have leaked repeatedly. We've seen tons of screen shots. I guess that explains why so many of us Microsoft watchers feel like we've been hearing about Windows Live Wave 4 even though we haven't been provided with an official beta yet.
Jones told me during a phone conversation yesterday that there are "tens of thousands" of people inside Microsoft already using the Wave 4 services (plus many other thousands using leaked and torrented versions, which Jones didn't mention). The private Wave 4 beta will be expanded to a larger group shortly thereafter, he said, with the final release of the services-only WIndows Live properties coming first, followed by the Windows Live properties that include both a service and a software component before the end of the year.
Jones declined to be any more specific on the timeline. The rumored final release to the Web for Windows Live Wave 4 is this summer.
Jones did confirm what many of us have been expecting: The Windows Live Wave 4 client software won't work on Windows XP.
"Our focus is on Windows 7 and, to a lesser extent, Windows Vista," Jones said. He attributed the decision not to create an XP version to Microsoft's decision to support features that were only available in Windows 7 and Vista. He noted that Windows Live services that don't include a software client (like Hotmail, for example) will continue to work in the browser on XP.
Given that Windows Live Wave 4 is meant to complement Windows 7 (which RTM'd last July), what's been the hold-up, I asked Jones. Isn't one of Microsoft's goals with services like Windows Live and Bing to be able to push out new features more rapidly than Microsoft traditionally has done via its "big bang" operating system releases?
"Customers don't want change to be too rapid" with certain kinds of software and services, he said. No one wants their email changing in a major way every few months, he claimed. That said, "we do want to be responsive to customers' requests." He said Microsoft has been introducing quietly incremental changes to Hotmail, Messenger and other Live services every two to three months.
Jones wouldn't talk about specific features for any of Microsoft's Windows Live Wave 4 deliverables. (Many of them are pretty well-known, given all the aforementioned leaks and screen shots of them over the past year or so.) But he did emphasize that Microsoft's goal with the Wave 4 release is to complement existing email, photo-sharing, document-collaboration and social networking properties, not to replace them.
"Our (Windows Live Wave 4) services are not meant to try to get you to switch to something new," he said. People already have more than enough e-mail clients, social networks, event-planning sites and photo-sharing centers.
"Don't expect to see new or more (Windows Live) services from us," Jones said. "Expect us to do more things like adding more sharing options to e-mail." And with the new Windows Live Essentials, "we'll make it easier to connect with what you already use," he added.