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If you've had a hard time figuring out what Microsoft means by "Windows Live," you're in good company. Microsoft has used the Live moniker for both web-based services such as Windows Live Search, Windows Live Messenger, and Windows Live Hotmail and for desktop applications that also include a web component, like Windows Live One Care. On Wednesday, Microsoft launched a beta version of its new Windows Live Suite, which includes features to help you connect with other users, find information online, customize your online experience, join a social network, back up data online, edit and share photos and videos, create a content-rich blog, and protect your family from the seamy side of the Internet. The Windows Live Suite works with both Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista.
I tried beta versions of Windows Live Photo Gallery and Live Writer for this article, but other components include Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Family Safety, and Windows Live SkyDrive.
I decided to give the "new" Photo Gallery feature a try. It's an enhanced feature of the Photo Gallery feature in Windows Vista, so what's new? The Fix command now features a real-time histogram with Shadow and Highlights sliders. Although it lacks a specific adjustment for midtones (included in the three-slider Levels commands in Adobe Photoshop/Photoshop Elements), the Shadow and Highlight sliders and the ability to adjust the black and white points on the histogram itself make it easier than ever to intelligently fix problem photos.
The Fix command also includes an Adjust Detail (sharpening) tool. Photo Gallery is now web-enabled, too, with an option to publish photos to Windows Live Spaces or MSN Soapbox. Photo Gallery also feature better integration with Windows Movie Maker.
Windows Live Writer supports Microsoft's own Windows Live Spaces and SharePoint blogs, but you can also configure it to work with other blogging services like WordPress, Blogger, and so on. Enter the blog's URL, your username and password, and Live Writer analyzes your blog and configures itself. Live Writer lives up to its promise of a rich blogging experience, providing automatic uploading of pictures from your system, insertion of maps from Microsoft Live Earth service, tags from Technorati, 43 Things, and other tag services, and video insertion. Publishing your entries is one-click simple, and you can also manage your blog with Live Writer.
Windows Live Suite is beta software, so you might not want to run it on a mission-critical system, but the features I tried suggest that when Windows Live Suite's components reach production status, Microsoft may have a winner on its hands.