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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Windows Live Essentials 2011 beta refresh

Vice President, Windows Live Engineering(review)

Today we’re releasing an update to Windows Live Essentials 2011 beta. One of the main reasons we release betas is to allow early adopters to enjoy our products and provide feedback on their experience. First, we want to say thank you for your help. For Messenger alone, we had over 3 million unique users, 3.5 million updates to display pictures, 6.2 million video calls, and 7.6 million updates to status messages.

Your beta feedback and usage has helped shape the many improvements we’ve made and continue to make across Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer, Mail, and Family Safety. Today I’d like to summarize some of the more visible changes you’ll see in today’s update, and we’ll follow up with more details in later posts.

Performance and quality of service improvements

We’re always working to improve the performance and quality of our services and we’ve made significant progress in this area in today’s beta update. This includes things like decreasing the time it takes to start each program or render each webpage, and improving the quality of your experiences. It often takes hundreds of small improvements and optimizations to better the final experience. Here are some of the many improvements you’ll see in this area:

  • A quicker Messenger – The time it takes to sign in, and to refresh contacts and social feeds, as well as animation speed, are all faster than in previous versions of Messenger.
  • More efficient video chat - Messenger video chat uses 30% fewer CPU resources by offloading work to the GPU.
  • Better facial recognition - Photo Gallery facial recognition is improved significantly and works more quickly.
  • Larger movie uploads - Movie Maker will upload higher resolution movies to SkyDrive (480x640 vs. the previous 320x480).
  • Higher bit-rate movies - Movie Maker now supports higher quality (bit-rate) content.
  • Better spell-checking - Writer has significantly improved the quality of its spell-checking.
  • Better integration with Office - Writer is much better at retaining all formatting when you copy and paste from Word and other Microsoft Office programs.
  • Better handling of Gmail – Mail now automatically handles Gmail’s spam and trash folders properly.
  • Faster web filtering - Family Safety web filtering is 35% faster than in the previous version.

In addition, we’ve been able to improve the quality of the software and have fixed over 75% of reported crashes. We’re not always able to reproduce all of the reported crashes internally, but we do look at this on an ongoing basis.

Facebook chat in Messenger

Many of you have been asking for Facebook chat, and it’s finally here. More than half of all Messenger customers also use Facebook. With the previous beta, you got a rich social view that brought together all your updates (including those from Facebook) and gave you one place to see and comment on them. With the new Facebook chat integration, you now also have one place to chat with all your friends. And if you use Facebook but don’t use Messenger today, you now have an always-on “people app” on your PC that gives you instant access and notifications as people come online in Facebook or Messenger.

New Facebook chat integration

From a technical perspective, this is a significant task. We’re connecting Messenger’s ~300 million customers (who are already connected to Yahoo! Messenger and Office Communicator) to Facebook’s ~500 million customers. To make sure this happens smoothly while Windows Live and Facebook both build up the needed back-end infrastructure, we’ll start by releasing this chat capability in the US, UK, France, Brazil, Germany, and Russia today. We’ll continue to expand this offering to additional regions over time.

We know some of you want to connect Facebook to Windows Live, while others prefer to keep things separate. This is a major part of our design and you get to decide when to connect Facebook, and if you do what types of activities you want to allow, including chat. You can change your preferences at any time from your profile page.

Connect to Facebook and Windows Live

Quick previews and improved tree view in Photo Gallery

One of the benefits of the new ribbon user interface in Windows Live Essentials is the ability it gives you to preview a change before you apply it simply by hovering over the option. With the beta update today, we’ve also added preview capabilities to the “Find” tab in the ribbon. So before you apply a filter (date, rating, people tags), you can hover over one of those filters and see the results instantly.

We’ve also added back date and keyword to the tree on the left hand side. While we know many customers will use the Find ribbon to sort through their pictures, we heard loud and clear that others found the tree more useful.

The tree helps to sort pictures

Flickr video publishing and Snapshot in Movie Maker

With the new Snapshot feature in Movie Maker, you can select a single frame from a video as it appears in the preview window and add it to your movie. This allows you to quickly grab an image that you want to keep or perhaps use for your movie’s intro or closing.

In addition, because we know many of you use Flickr for photo sharing and have enjoyed publishing to Flickr right from Photo Gallery, we’ve extended support to Movie Maker, so that you can now publish videos directly from Movie Maker or Photo Gallery to Flickr too.

We hope you’ll download today’s update of the Windows Live Essentials 2011 beta and try out the changes. And today, in addition to English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, and Simplified Chinese, you can also now get the beta in Russian or German. In this post I covered just a few of the things you’ll notice when you use the new beta update. In subsequent posts we’ll go into more detail on other improvements we’ve made, as well as feedback we’ve received on the new Hotmail.

- Chris Jones


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