The Windows Live Essentials beta is now available for download. I’ve had a chance to kick the tires on this one and I must say it’s a nice improvement. While the Essentials download includes such applications as Movie Maker and Photo Gallery – my two favorites are Windows Live Writer and Windows Live Messenger.
Windows Live Writer, as always, is a dependable way to compose and edit offline posts and upload them to your blog. It works perfectly for me, and I’m really enjoying the new ribbon interface. If you can use MS Office, you can use Windows Live Writer. And while there are lots of plug-ins available in the Windows Live Gallery – I think you’ll find this to be a full featured editor right “out of the box”. It’s easy to learn and easy to use.
Windows Live Messenger is my most favorite of all the Essentials programs. This new version brings together your social feeds, making it even easier to keep up with what your contacts are doing. It also offers integration with your Facebook feed. Your WLM contacts can get updates you post on Facebook and your Facebook contacts can see your Windows Live Messenger status updates (assuming you link the accounts). I personally make this a one way thing. I don’t mind my WLM contacts seeing my Facebook updates (which are rare anyway), but I don’t show all my status changes (like “BBL” or “AFK”) to my Facebook contacts. But I can see where many users might be quite happy to allow 2-way integration. There is not a complete integration with Facebook chat yet, like you’ll find in Digsby or Trillian, but I’m hopeful we’ll see more development in the future. (I really detest Facebook chat on the Facebook website so I’m really hoping this integration is under development – but we’ll just have to wait and see.) This is certainly a good start. Of course Yahoo interoperability functions as it always has. Although, just as in the past, I’ve found that sometimes status updates don’t appear correctly – but that’s nothing new and since it requires servers playing nice with each other is just the nature of the beast I think.
Sharing links in your status is easier than ever. And you can link social services like Flickr, Multiply,Photobucket, Facebook, Myspace, and the list goes on and on. For a complete list of social sites you can integrate into your social feed you’ll need to visit your profile on Windows Live and set them up. They make the authorization process easy as pie, so you can view your updates from all your sites in one nicely laid out feed.
A really great new feature is being able to leave a video message for your offline contacts. There is no need to go to a third party site to do this any longer! However, your contact needs to be appearing offline for you to do this. I’ve tested the video chat in Wave 4 and I must say the quality is most impressive. There is a new layout to the video chat you either have to get used to it or make your viewing area a little larger than you may be accustomed to so that your image doesn’t overlap that of your contact, but it’s workable. The images are no longer stacked on top of each other, they are slightly tiled. But as you enlarge the viewing area (by dragging the edge of the chat box – you’ll see they do separate.) As with anything – change takes a little getting used to. The sound quality was good, and in my test conversation with my dear friend Philip, I didn’t encounter any glitches in the performance. Overall, a far better debut than the video in Wave 3 beta when it came out.
A nice new feature is being able to appear selectively offline to some contacts without blocking them completely (which results in not getting any offlines from them either.) It is important to know that you must appear online to a contact to speak with them. You cannot initiate or respond to a message if you are showing offline to them. However, if you are invisible, you can appear online to just the contacts you need to. The prompts make it very easy to continue chatting if you’ve forgotten you are offline to one or more of your contacts. This is a big improvement in my book!!
Of course, there are bound to be a few bugs – it is still a beta after all! Games don’t seem to be functioning properly just yet. I also had one time when my online contacts didn’t show – but I just logged out, told WLM to forget me, and logged back in and it was completely fine. And I’ve had a few times where I was unable to click into my chat box to respond to a message after choosing to appear online. But in these cases, closing the chat window and re-opening a new one did the trick. This is still a public beta. There will be bugs.
One very important note: you must be using Vista SP2 or Windows 7 to install the new Wave 4 beta. It is not supported for XP. Some of the new and improved features will only be available Wave 4 to Wave 4. However, you will still be able to chat and have video conversations with your contacts who are still on XP. Overall, I’ve found the beta version to be very stable on my machine, and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
Originally posted at patndoris.com