Windows Live finally makes sense

Those who have followed my blog for a while should know that I’m not in the habit of using this space to blindly promote Microsoft products – although if I find something genuinely cool or useful I’ve been known to give it a quick plug. This is why I’ve never posted about Windows Live before. It’s not that the various sites and apps were bad – it’s just that they were obviously a random collection of rebranded MSN assets that didn’t make a lot of sense as a unit.

But thankfully this has all changed with the latest incarnation of Windows Live. This has been out for a couple of weeks now, but I’ve only started looking at it properly in the last few days – and so far I’m extremely impressed. While most of the old sites are there in some form, there is now a clear common theme: sharing and discovering information about your social network (which is built from your Messenger contacts). However rather than competing with other social networking sites, Windows Live is able to link to other sites (yes, even non-Microsoft sites such as Twitter, Flickr and StumbleUpon) and aggregate activities from those sites into a single view.

Aside from the new home page that shows all of your network’s activities, the coolest new feature I’ve discovered so far is the new Photos site and the corresponding Windows Live Photo Gallery downloadable app. You can now store all of your photos online in your SkyDrive (with 25Gb of free space!), share them with as many or few people as you want, and view them online in an awesome new Silverlight-based slideshow view. The offline Photo Gallery app has the expected integration with Live Photos and Flickr, plus some fun new features such as People Tagging and Photosynth stitching.

I’m sure there are much more comprehensive reviews out there, but I wanted to draw it to your attention as so far it doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of web love – and it finally deserves some!