On September 30, Microsoft is expected to make available for download the final version of "Wave 4" of its Windows Live Essentials 2011 suite of Windows add-ons.
A couple of enthusiast sites are reporting the final bits should be downloadable around 1 pm ET today. Microsoft isn't confirming the date/time (to me, at least), but I'm inclined to believe what I'm hearing/reading.
Update: Here's the download link for the final WLE 2011 bits.
The WLE 2011 suite includes new versions of Photo Gallery, Mail, Movie Maker, Messenger, Writer (a blogging tool), Family Safety (parental controls), Live Mesh (the PC-sync tool formerly known as Live Sync), the Toolbar, Microsoft Office Outlook Connector, Office Live Add-in and Silverlight. Users can opt to install the suite in its entirety or to choose only certain elements (using the custom-install option from the unified installer).
The products in the Essentials suite are a hybrid of software and services. There are other Windows Live properties that are not part of the suite, including Hotmail and SkyDrive, which are Web services that do not install software on users' machines.
Microsoft has been testing "Wave 4" Windows Live services for months. The new Hotmail was rolled out in August, but has continued to get new features and functionality sporadically in the weeks since then.
The most sweeping changes, at least from a user-interface perspective, among the WLE 2011 products is the new Windows Live Messenger, which Microsoft has made look and feel like Facebook with its exposed activity streams. For those (like me) who don't want to see this view, a small button in the upper right corner of Messenger allows you to go back to the traditional small-panel Messenger view.
Microsoft officials announced plans to axe Windows Live Spaces, the blogging platform that has been part of Windows Live, earlier this week. There's been some discrepancy as to how many active Live Spaces accounts there are out there, with Microsoft originally claiming 30 million, but the real number looking considerably smaller. In any case, Microsoft has lined up WordPress to provide blogs and blog hosting for any Live Spaces customers who want to migrate to WordPress in the next six months.
(Some Microsoft partners are none too happy that Microsoft chose WordPress as its "Plan B," given that WordPress runs on Apache and MySQL, not Microsoft's own stack. But WordPress did announce in 2009 that it is working with Microsoft to make it easier for self-hosting WordPress bloggers to offload "burst" traffic to Windows Azure if and when they need to do so. Contrary to some reports, Automatic, the developer of WordPress, never said it was planning to move the WordPress blogs to Windows Azure.)
Any strong likes/dislikes as to what Microsoft has done with Wave 4 with Windows Live? I guess it's on to Wave 5 now... which will likely be touted as the add-on complements to Windows 8.
Update: Enthusiast Francisco Martin Garcia is running a list of what he says are the new features that Microsoft has added to WLE 2011 since Beta 2, which Microsoft delivered earlier this summer. On that list: New Photo Gallery preview capabilities; Bing Maps and Flickr Video integration with Photo Gallery; better Live Messenger performance, including video-chat performance; and better Gmail support. As more than a few testers have told me, they're more interested in seeing whether Microsoft has fixed the large number of bugs than if they've added more new features....