Microsoft released a public beta of the Windows Live Essentials (Wave 4) today. The application I use more and am most interested in is Live Messenger. With each release, a bit more glitz seems to get added in, and with Wave 4, the inclusion of its social networking intentions has blown it a bit over the top. The default screens looks something like the following.
Fortunately, the little button in the top right shrinks the contact list down to something more manageable, and not dissimilar from what we had in the past. Iâ€™ve gone with a two-column layout. The ad banner has changed format, but still takes up a good portion of the application, unfortunately.
Thereâ€™s a clear focus on the social aspect of Windows Live in the new release. Your name can no longer be changed in the Messenger interface; instead itâ€™s tied to your profile. Youâ€™ll have to modify your Live settings to update your name. However, the chat box beside your avatar is more obvious than before, and serves as a status update.
Speaking of your Windows Live profile, I hadnâ€™t noticed it much in the past, but with many of the account functions now tied to that web interface, many more people are going to be visiting the site. It looks fairly clean, with your own status updates front and center. It seems like very few of my contacts currently use the service, with Facebook around, so theyâ€™ve gone and added the ability to link (one-way or two-way) your social accounts, such as Facebook, YouTube, etc. When I installed Windows Live Writer, I was prompted to link my WordPress blog with Windows Live. A couple clicks later and my recent posts started populating my feed. Pretty neat.
Back to Live Messenger. An oft-requested feature, tabbed messaging, makes an appearance. Furthermore, Messenger now plays nice with the Windows 7 taskbar, removing the superfluous taskbar item, as well as showing each tab as an individual preview. Nice little status buttons on the contact list preview enable quick status changes.
One feature that is indicative of a mindset that makes me extremely proud to be a Program Manager shows up in the notifications. The little gear circled in the screenshot below takes you directly to the notification settings.
When a user sees the little notifier pop up, theyâ€™re likely going to think one of three things.
- Okay, but I donâ€™t care (leaves it to go away on its own, or click the little x)
- Oh, I meant to speak to him/her (clicks the notification to launch a chat)
- Gosh, I hate these notifications! (????)
Normally, the third reaction meant the user had to go dig around in the settings until they found what they were looking for, or give up trying. However, the little icon uses up some of the otherwise wasted space and delivers what the user wants in a single click. Thatâ€™s a much better experience, and thatâ€™s the goal of any Program Manager.
I havenâ€™t delved into the rest of the applications yet, although this post was written in the new Live Writer. For the most part, what Iâ€™m seeing at a glance are the old apps, now with more ribbon. Perhaps there are little user experience nuggets like the settings link in Live Messenger, helping the interface. Iâ€™m also rather excited about Live Sync (+ SkyDrive). Iâ€™ve been using DropBox, but it doesnâ€™t work with my own file structure, so Iâ€™m curious to see how Live Sync stacks up. Get the Live Essentials Beta here.