The new Windows Live Essentials beta will be available for public testing starting Thursday, according to Microsoft. A collection of free Web-oriented applications and services for Windows Vista and Windows 7 PCs, Live Essentials is currently available in English, French, Dutch, Japanese, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, or Spanish.
You can download the beta here. (The beta wasn't live as of 10 a.m. U.S. Pacific, although it should be available sometime today.)
Live Essentials programs include Windows Live Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mail, Writer, and Messenger. The new beta connects these apps to online services from Microsoft and other providers, including social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Linkedin; popular blogging tools like Spaces, WordPress, and Blogger; online storage and photo/video sharing sites including SkyDrive, Flickr, YouTube, and SmugMug; email sites such as Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail; and Microsoft Office Web Apps, Redmond's new online productivity suite.
In addition, the new Windows Live Sync feature synchronizes your files across multiple PCs and on cloud-based (online) servers. Sync's new remote desktop feature also lets you access your PC via the Web.
In a recent hands-on preview of the Windows Live Essentials beta, Computerworld's Preston Gralla singled out Windows Live Sync as a particularly useful--if little known--feature in the Live Essentials arsenal: "The sleeper of the group that has gotten very little notice is Windows Live Sync. That's a shame, because for people with multiple PCs, this little app may be the best of the bunch. Beyond that, it could provide an important syncing foundation for many other Microsoft products in the future, including the Web version of Office."
Other new Windows Live Essentials tools include:
· Face recognition in Photo Gallery. Tag a photo of someone, and the software identifies the face in other pics.
· The addition of the Office (2007 and 2010) ribbon interface to Windows Live Mail, which also adds a calendar pane for a more Outlook-like appearance.
· Movie Maker gets the Office ribbon too, as well as better tools for adding titles, transitions, captions, and a soundtrack to your videos.
· Easier photo and video sharing with multiple online services.
· New family safety controls to enhance those left out of Windows 7.