Microsoft's Windows Live services are living up to its name by going live, losing the "beta" label, and becoming available as a free, Windows suite of six Web-connected applications.
The suite includes Windows Live Mail, which integrates with Hotmail and supports POP and IMAP. Among the other complete desktop services are Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Writer for composing blog posts. Windows Live Photo Gallery manages picture albums that can be uploaded to Microsoft Spaces, MSN Soapbox, or Yahoo's Flickr.
Also final are Windows Live Spaces for blogging, the Windows Live Events invitation service, as well as the security products Windows Live OneCare, and the 3MB Windows Live OneCare Family Safety, which offers parental controls over children's Web-surfing habits. Microsoft's many other online-only tools with the Windows Live moniker include search, Local mapping, and Favorites for bookmarking Web pages.
Fully using these tools requires a Windows Live ID, which replaced Microsoft's former Passport ID. Sign-up is available at get.live.com.
In our tests on Windows XP so far, the download took several seconds. Installation took another 10 minutes. Before you install, make sure to tell Microsoft not to change your browser and home page settings if you like them the way they are.
The Google Pack of 13 applications, which includes Picasa photo editing, Norton security scanning, an IM client, a browser toolbar, and desktop search, may be the closest competitor to the Windows Live bundle. However, the Google Pack does not offer a desktop blog composer or an e-mail client as Microsoft's suite does.
Last year, when we picked our favorite Windows Live services, Microsoft still seemed only to be getting started with its stable of online tools, each of which remained in beta testing for up to two years.
Although Windows Live has reached prime time, we suspect that Microsoft will continue to add features. For example, we wish that you could chat within Windows Live Hotmail, which came out of beta testing in May. But at least the e-mail service will notify you when buddies are online so that you can open Windows Live Messenger with a few clicks. Plus, the Messenger clients from both Microsoft and Yahoo enable users to chat with users of the other brand.
Windows Live services remaining in beta testing include Windows Live Calendar beta, released today, and Windows Live SkyDrive.
Microsoft's latest mobile offerings for checking e-mail work with Wap2.0, iMode, and HTML phone browsers.
We'll report back soon with results and a review from our hands-on testing with the Windows Live desktop suite.