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Originally published November 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 13, 2008 at 9:24 AM

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Microsoft updates Windows Live to be starting point for "what's new"

With most people using a variety of online services for sharing photos, e-mailing and social networking, Microsoft is trying to create a central place to keep track of it all — based on the company's own Web offerings.

Seattle Times technology reporter

Windows Live

In its third major refresh of the suite of consumer online services, Microsoft is creating a central point for managing activities across the Web. But it's also fine-tuning individual services. Here are some of the changes.

Profile and "what's new": A new home page and profile page will include "what's new" updates tracking what you and your contacts are doing on Microsoft's sites and other Web services.

Live Hotmail: The e-mail service, with 375 million users, is faster and has better protection from spam. But Microsoft did away with the "classic" version of Hotmail and introduced other annoyances that raised the ire of some users.

Live Messenger: The instant-messaging service, with 330 million users, can be personalized and supports drag-and-drop photo sharing.

SkyDrive: Online file storage and sharing gets a capacity boost from 5 gigabytes to 25 gigs.

More details: www.windowslive.com

Source: Microsoft

With most people using a variety of online services for sharing photos, e-mailing and social networking, Microsoft is trying to create a central place to keep track of it all — based on the company's own Web offerings.

Previous versions of Windows Live, Microsoft's suite of consumer-oriented online services, had limited integration with rival and complementary products from other companies. For example, Microsoft's blogging service, Windows Live Spaces, gave status updates whenever a contact wrote a new post on a blog.

"But the problem is, it was a closed system, so it was only what's new on Spaces, and there's just more new stuff going on in the world," said Chris Jones, Microsoft's corporate vice president heading Windows Live.

Now, a "what's new" feed on a personalized Windows Live home page (and within other Live services) will update you when someone in your self-selected network has posted a new photo, added a comment or written a blog entry on any Web service partnered with Microsoft.

From there, you can go directly to that service to fully experience, for example, viewing photos in Flickr, Yahoo's photo-sharing site.

Microsoft has signed up 50 partners, including major Web properties such as Amazon.com, Twitter and Wordpress.

The announcement came Wednesday as part of a broad array of new and updated Windows Live service, and is another signal that Microsoft is adopting a more open stance as it competes for a bigger share of the online audience.

Yahoo sees it as an extension of its own open strategy, Yahoo spokeswoman Kryssa Guntrum said in an e-mail.

"Opening Flickr data to various experiences across the Web delivers clear value to our members by making the rest of the Internet more relevant for them," she said.

The move could get more people to increase time spent with Microsoft's online services, allowing the company to generate more advertising revenue.

"The idea that if you just log in to Windows Live first and then be able to click through to all those other places seems like a pretty compelling story," said Kip Kniskern, who tracks Microsoft's online efforts for the Web site Liveside.net.

Jones said Microsoft offers an attractive central point for organizing disparate social-networking, sharing and communications activities online.

The company's Windows Live suite has better e-mail, instant messaging, contact management and calendar features than individual Web services that specialize in photo sharing or social networking, he contended.

Microsoft has changed other elements of the Live suite, including expanding the free storage on its SkyDrive service to 25 gigabytes and adding a "people tagging" feature to its Live Photos service.

Some of the changes to Windows Live Hotmail, which has more than 375 million active users, caused an uproar when they were rolled out in late September.

The new version is faster, but Microsoft did away with a "classic" version. It also made some mistakes.

Folder names became so big as to be illegible for people who use a larger font size, Jones said.

"That's one example where we had an issue; we really got a lot of feedback on it. We turned around quickly and addressed it," Jones said. "... A great thing about the services model is that we're able to do that pretty quickly."

U.S. consumers will see other updated services in the coming weeks, Jones said. They will be available in more than 50 countries early next year.

In the past, Microsoft has stumbled in its marketing and branding of the Live suite, in part because of its breadth — covering more than 20 services for PCs, the Web and mobile devices — and in part because it was not complete.

"We can't just have the right marketing without the right product," Jones said.

Now, with finished versions of the services emerging, the company will begin marketing to existing consumers through notifications and automatic updates.

Microsoft will also continue to advertise to attract new users.

It has more than 430 million users of its Live services.

Further down the road, Microsoft will have to coordinate marketing of Live with Windows 7, the next version of its operating system, officially due in early 2010.

The Live services are set to replace many features built in to earlier versions of the operating system.

Also Wednesday, Microsoft announced a deal with Hewlett-Packard, which will distribute Windows Live Photo Gallery with consumer printers.

HP and Microsoft previously inked a deal to put a custom Live Search toolbar on new HP computers sold in North America. Both deals take effect in 2009.

And China Telecom plans to distribute a co-branded version of Windows Live Messenger to its subscribers "in the near future," according to Microsoft's news release.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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