Clearing up the Windows Live confusion

Clearing up the Windows Live confusion

Summary: The single most confusing part of the Windows 7 intro last week at the Professional Developers Conference was the part about Windows Live. Judging by the comments I’ve read and heard, many people mistakenly concluded that Microsoft is planning to deliver a suite of Internet-based applications in tandem with Windows 7. Here’s what’s really happening.

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The single most confusing part of the Windows 7 intro last week at the Professional Developers Conference was the part about Windows Live. It doesn’t help that Microsoft also launched its ambitious cloud computing project, Microsoft Azure, at PDC (see ZDNet’s excellent coverage from Mary Jo Foley, John Carroll, and Phil Wainewright).

Judging by the comments I’ve read and heard, many people mistakenly concluded that Microsoft is planning to deliver a suite of Internet-based applications in tandem with Windows 7. Here’s what’s really happening.

A handful of applications that were previously included with Windows will no longer ship with the core operating system. 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.

If Microsoft can twist enough arms or offer enough incentives, most of these apps will probably be on consumer computers sold by leading PC makers like HP and Dell and Sony. But if you install your own retail copy of Windows or create a corporate image using an enterprise edition of Windows 7, you’ll be able to choose your own options for these functions, or download the latest edition of the Windows Live programs directly.

Why the change? Blame it on the courts, which have significantly constrained what Microsoft can do with anything that’s a part of Windows. By decoupling the programs from Windows and delivering them through Windows Live, the company avoids a whole host of legal issues. So, shortly after the launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft moved development of those programs over to the Windows Live group, where they now exist as downloadable files.

Using Windows Vista, the experience of finding, installing, and using the newer Windows Live programs is confusing, to say the least. Although the updated versions are, for all practical purposes, upgrades to the original applications bundled with Vista, they don’t replace those programs. To make matters worse, you have to manually configure the new program to be the default handler for common tasks such as importing photos from a digital camera.

As a way to work around this confusion, Microsoft has dropped all of these programs from the core Windows 7 package and is instead delivering them under the Windows Live Essentials brand.

Today, the Windows Live products that will ultimately arrive in Windows 7 have been available as beta releases since September. The full suite includes Mail, Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer, and Family Safety, plus an Internet Explorer toolbar and a Microsoft Office Outlook Connector that supports Hotmail and Windows Live accounts.

Microsoft is clearly betting that many if not most OEMs delivering consumer products will want to include the most recent Windows Live package as part of the default Windows installation. If they succeed, they get rid of a longstanding headache and remove another item from the checklist of Windows annoyances that corporate customers and power users complain about so regularly.

In the process, they also create an opportunity for alternative service providers, most notably Google, which has its own suite of products that offer mail, photo editing and sharing, and an instant messenger. (Not to mention the Google Office apps, which also compete head-on with Microsoft products.)

Can Microsoft compete successfully in a world where its products aren’t installed by default on every desktop? Clearly, someone in Redmond is willing to make that bet.

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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13 comments
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  • I think its an interesting approach

    I don't use the applications that will be excluded, it certainly alleviates anti-trust whining, but it is a little risky. Some less techy users will want the applications and having to download the Live apps may annoy them.
    Personally I would like raw format support in Live Photo Gallery, Picasa 3 has it in every other way Live Photo Gallery is as good.
    All in all 7 looks great I'm looking forward to the public beta when it comes.
    marks055@...
  • The Windows Live Apps

    Are first rate, especially Live Mail, Writer and Photo gallery. I am using the Beta versions of these products right now and I must say I am very impressed. I decided against Live Movie Maker because a lot of the features have been stripped out of the Live version. I highly recommend people download and give these applications a try.
    soonerproud
  • I think it's a good development

    People that don't know an application, browse a bit and find an application.

    Start learning how to use it and then get lazy or unwilling to learn something else. Choice is nowhere in the picture.

    By de-coupling, they make the anti-trust organs really happy and it opens market possibilities for other companies.
    TedKraan
    • I agree...

      ...this can only be seen as a positive step.

      Now if we can only get the OEMs to stop sticking third party crapware on new builds...
      Sleeper Service
  • also cuts the footprint

    Removing these sometimes unused programs is a great way to reduce the size of Windows, also. Microsoft can still have a placeholder for these services in the OS, which point to where the user can download these programs.
    coffeeshark
    • That's a good point...

      with the hype around the foot print it would be interesting to see what analysis went in to determine what could be pulled out...
      TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
  • Ed, do you know-

    "Today, the Windows Live products that will ultimately arrive in Windows 7 have been available as beta releases since September."

    Ed do you think there will be another refresh of these products with more functionality before 7 ships? I'm interested in movie maker especially; the absence of a timeline cripples that app.
    Also do you see other applications being added to the live suite; a light web editor maybe or an audio editor ?? la the iLife suite?
    Jaips
    • There will be another refresh

      But I don't believe any of the apps are slated to get additional functionality except in relation to some Live services that haven't been turned on yet.

      Movie Maker is apparently going to be on a longer dev schedule than the other programs in Wave 3. I suspect that means additional features, but you be the judge:

      http://windowslivewire.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!2F7EB29B42641D59!8577.entry
      Ed Bott
  • Why the Separate Update?

    Why require a separate update process for the Live apps? Why not have Windows Update / WSUS be a one-stop shop for updates?
    ParrotHeadFL
    • Windows Update does also update Live Applications, on Vista atleast. (NT)

      NT
      logicearth@...
    • Via Microsoft Update

      The current set of Live apps use the Microsoft Update process, which is a superset of Windows Update. I suspect this wil remain the same. So assuming they make it easy enough to opt in to MU, then it should be no issue.
      Ed Bott
  • RE: Clearing up the Windows Live confusion

    I blocked Google, and I will never use any of their "products" (if you can call them that, more like garbage).
    jfreedle2@...
  • RE: Clearing up the Windows Live confusion

    Ah, okay. You had written that "the primary delivery (and update) mechanism will be the Windows Live website", and I have also seen similar comments elsewhere. That sounded to me like they would NOT be updated via Microsoft Updates / Windows Updates.
    ParrotHeadFL