Windows Live Essentials 2011, now available in a public beta, is the local client component of Microsoft Windows Live, a collection of programs and web services. WLE 2011’s components include photo editing and organization (WL Photo Gallery), video editing (WL Movie Maker), email and calendar (WL Mail), instant messaging and social media (WL Messenger), blogging (WL Writer), cross-platform file synchronization and Windows remote access (WL Sync), and web and IM filtering (WL Family Safety). Before the public beta was released in late June, Windows Live Essentials 2011 was known as Windows Live Essentials Wave 4. In this article, you’ll learn what new and improved features the latest WLE wave brings with it.
Most of WLE 2011’s applications now feature an Office 2007-style ribbon menu to enable easier access to new and improved features. However, the improvements are more than skin-deep. WLE 2011’s components now feature better integration with each other and with the online portions of Windows Live. For example, slide shows in WL Photo Gallery can be converted into WL Movie Maker auto movies with just a couple of clicks or can be published online to Windows Live SkyDrive’s 25GB of cloud-based storage.
WLE 2011 also plays nicely with others, with integrated support for Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube and the ability to share social messaging from Facebook and MySpace with WL Messenger. You can also add support for many other services.
The downside? WLE 2011 is designed for use with Windows 7, and will also work on Windows Vista, but Windows XP users are out of luck. For now, you can still get the previous version of Windows Live Essentials, but after you see what you can do with the 2011 version, you might be ready to give up XP for 7.
As with previous versions (and its Windows Vista ancestor, Windows Photo Gallery), WL Photo Gallery is designed to organize photos and perform light-duty editing. In this edition, WL Photo Gallery provides many more features for both organization and editing.
People tagging has now been enhanced with face recognition. When you select a photo for people tagging, WLPG automatically highlights each face in the photo and prompts you to tag them. You can also manually highlight other faces and tag them with their Windows Live contact names or names you enter manually.
The more you use people tagging with face recognition, the smarter the feature becomes: as WLPG “learns” the characteristics of each face, it can tag or suggest tagging the same people in other photos.
When it’s time to find a few favorite photos out of an immense forest of digital images, WLPG 2011 makes searches simpler as well. The Quick Find menu on the Home tab provides face-based searches as well as calendar, star rating and flagged/non-flagged lookups.
Switch to the Find tab for more advanced options, including AND/OR searches, star rating searches by specified rating, specified rating and higher (or lower), selected or most-used tags, and free text search to find photos by people tags, descriptive tags, or geotags. You can also pin a search to make it available at all times.
The Edit tab now features a customizable auto adjust repair tool, individual automatic tools to straighten, improve exposure, improve color, and remove noise, and the ability to select a group of photos for automatic repairs. User-controlled repair tools are now found in the Fine Tune menu, including a new Retouch tool for removing small flaws such as dust and scratches and an improved Reduce Noise tool that maintains detail while reducing JPEG artifacts.
New goodies on the Create tab include Photo Fuse, which enables you to combine the best parts of two or more photos into a single image, an enhanced Movie command that interfaces with WL Movie Maker 2011, and easy access to additional Microsoft photo editing tools such as PhotoSynth and Collage Pro.
WL Movie Maker 2011 pairs up with Photo Gallery 2011 in a couple of ways: in addition to its ability to convert WLPG 2011 slide shows into movies, Movie Maker creates videos you can tag and organize with Photo Gallery. However, even if you never take a digital photo, you’ll still appreciate the new video import and editing chops in Movie Maker. You can now import webcam video directly into MM.
And, regardless of where your video comes from, MM 2011 features plenty of new ways to manipulate it. The Speed option in the Edit tab lets you vary the speed of a video clip from a dreamy 0.25x slow motion to a frenetic 64x fast motion. Spilt and trim tools are now easier to use, and you can fade audio in and out at three different speeds.
The Visual Effects tab provides options to adjust brightness, change color, and add a large variety of special effects to your video clips (edge detection is shown in this example). The real-time preview means you can see how each effect changes the video immediately.
The Animations tab now provides timing options for effects such as fade-in, fade-out, and other types of dissolves, and you can now add the same effect between all clips with a single mouse click. To see the effects applied to any clip, hover your mouse over it.
The Home tab now offers captions as well as credits and title slides. Captions can use any installed font and feature adjustable transparency levels. Preconfigured credits templates make it easy to add acting, directing, and other types of credits.
When it’s time to output your creation, MM 2011 lets you choose from an expanded roster of standard settings for PC, DVD, or mobile playback, or you can create custom settings.
You can also publish your movies to Facebook, YouTube, Windows Live SkyDrive, or Windows Live Spaces.
Windows Live Mail 2011 not only features the near-ubiquitous ribbon menu, but also puts the formerly-hidden Calendar (which integrates with Windows Live Calendar) on top. In addition to making working with the calendar simpler, WLM 2011 also provides powerful tools for working with email and stopping junk mail.
If you’re tired of dredging up help files from your email provider to figure out your email server’s name, port numbers and so on, here’s good news: WLM 2011 auto-configures email account settings for you when you set up a new account. And, when you read your email, WLM 2011 now uses conversation threading as the default, or you can choose other sort options such as priority, size, attachment, flag, watched items, and more.
WLM 2011 supports photo email, a new way to email photos that stores the full size versions in the sender’s Windows Live SkyDrive shared storage while sending reduced-size thumbnail links to the recipient. If the recipient wants to download the full-size versions from SkyDrive, there’s a 90-day window in which to do it. Choose from a variety of formats to make your photo email even more eye-catching while relieving the strain on your recipient’s inbox.
Other new and improved features include the ability to set the default encoding used for email messages (Encoding), enhanced junk mail filtering with options to block specified top-level domains and encodings, and offline calendar and email support.
WLM 2011 continues to include RSS news feed, newsgroup, and contact management with improved layout options to make using each type of content easier to use. WLM 2011 also supports launching Windows Live Writer and Windows Live Messenger directly from its interface.
WLMessenger 2011 reflects the following social-network realities:
When you start WLMessenger 2011, you can choose from a large window view that brings up news and entertainment feeds from MSN or an identically sized Social view that displays your friends’ latest comments and news from Windows Live, Facebook, and MySpace. When you add a contact, you can specify how much of your information to share.
WLM 2011 also includes a more compact and easier to use ‘picture in picture’ interface for video chatting along with HD video support, a resizable window so you can see your contacts in multiple columns, easy sharing of audio clips and photos, and better integration with WL Mail: photos you receive through WL Mail also show up as social updates in WLMessenger.
Along with support for the most common social-networking PC clients, WL Messenger 2011 also supports the Apple iPhone and other mobile platforms.
WLW 2011 also benefits from the ribbon interface shared by the rest of the content-creation gang in WLE. As with its predecessor, it enables you to use a single blog editor to post blogs on WordPress, Blogger, Windows Live, and other blogging platforms. To set up WLW2011 to work with your blog, answer a couple of question and WLW2011 does the rest.
To make your blogging easier, WLW 2011 offers three views of your posting: the default Edit view, a Preview view showing how your post will look in a browser, and the traditional HTML Source view
WLW 2011 features easier insertion of pictures and videos from your own computer or from the web, and you can also insert videos from online services such as YouTube. It includes integrated tools such as word count and a spell checker as well as HTML and character-based formatting. The Insert tab also lets you insert tables, maps, and Bing (“Windows Live”) searches into your blog entries. You can also use it to create an online photo album hosted on Windows Live SkyDrive.
WLW 2011 continues to support a growing library of plug-ins, so you can customize it to meet your needs.
Windows Live Sync 2011 is a not-exactly-“new” member of Windows Live Essentials. It is a replacement for two older Windows Live synchronization services that were available in separate downloads: Windows Live Mesh and Windows Live Sync.
The 2011 version of Windows Live Sync borrows Live Mesh technology, but offers only 2GB of storage (which comes out of the 25GB of cloud-based storage all Windows Live users get as part of SkyDrive).
However, Windows Live Sync 2011 provides cross-platform PC to Mac synchronization without using up your online storage (get the Mac client here) and provides remote access between computers running WLSync 2011. The Devices.live.com website lets you see the status of the drives and devices being used by WLSync 2011.
If you currently use Windows Live toolbar, Windows Live Sync or Windows Live Mesh, be sure to see the instructions for preparing your system to use WLSync2011.
Windows Live Family Safety 2011 is the least glamorous member of the WLE 2011 family, but if you’re trying to keep your children away from the seedy side of the Internet or from age-inappropriate programs on your computer, it could be the most important. WLFS 2011, like its predecessor, requires that each family member you want to monitor have a standard user account on the computer. However, it’s not necessary to set up a Windows Live account for each family member unless you allow them access to social networks and enable contact management.
WLFS 2011 also includes a new Warn on Adult Content setting, blocks paid ads, and includes an adult image content filter. Activity reports now display only sites that users access, so it no longer clutters up the report with popup ads that were never clicked on.
To avoid flipping between the WLFS 2011 management tool and the limited family protection settings already in Windows 7 and Windows Vista, WLFS 2011 also includes time limits and program blocking as well as game rating limits, so you can use it to manage both local and network content. With WLFS 2011, you decide how much access to provide to younger users.
Windows Live Essentials 2011’s integration, feature set, and scope bring it closer than ever to the original Windows Live Vision of seamless integration of social networking and social media. It’s a worthwhile download for anyone using Windows 7 and for all Windows Vista systems that meet the requirements.