Hands On: Microsoft's Windows Live Essentials

The bottom line

Taken on an application-by-application basis, the newest version of Windows Live Essentials is a clear success. Windows Live Sync, for example, is probably the best free syncing product I've ever tried, and I've tried quite a few of them. And I don't think I've seen a free video-creation tool as powerful as Windows Live Movie Maker, either. Photo Gallery is an excellent application, if not necessarily the best free one in its class, and Windows Live Mail is also good, although not as powerful as, say, Thunderbird.

But whether you try the entire set or only a few apps, there's something here you can likely use.

Taken as a coherent product line, though, Windows Live Essentials is not a success. What does a browser toolbar like Bing Bar have to do with the movie-creation application Windows Live Movie Maker? Nothing, really. And therein lies the problem. Although there are some links between Windows Live Essentials applications -- for example, making it easy to send an e-mail full of photos from Windows Live Photo Gallery -- these are all really stand-alone applications. And only in some instances is there direct integration with Microsoft's free cloud-based file storage service, SkyDrive.

One can't help thinking about the possibilities inherent some aspects of Windows Live Essentials -- notably with Windows Live Sync. If Microsoft properly developed it, the company would have the makings of an exceptionally powerful cloud-based set of services with links to client applications, something that Google can't currently match.

Imagine if the Web-based and client-based versions of Office used SkyDrive for common storage, backup and synchronization, with Windows Live Sync providing the synchronization services. Imagine if Windows Live Photo Gallery similarly featured online-offline synchronization tools. You could get the best of cloud-based computing and client-based computing, and not need to worry or think about where the file you were currently working on was stored -- the latest version would be on whatever device you wanted whenever you needed it.

So download Windows Live Essentials for what it offers, because there's a lot to like. But like me, you may well wish for a coherent product line with synchronization services linked to other Microsoft products.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor to Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

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