Microsoft on Wednesday started limited beta offerings of Windows Live file and photo sharing services.
Along with others that have recently been rolled out, they will be part of a suite of services making up the second generation of Windows Live, said Brian Hall, general manager of Windows Live at Microsoft.
Windows Live Folder, available to select beta users Wednesday, is meant to allow file sharing without relying on e-mail, external USB devices or public sharing sites.
On the Live Folder page, users first create a new folder and then choose from a list of contacts or enter an e-mail address of a person with whom to share a file. Next, the user adds a file, such as a video or document, to the folder. Clicking on "send a link", opens up an Outlook Mail message that includes a link to the file online. Users can then send an e-mail to the person with the link.
While the service uses e-mail to share a link, users don't actually send the files in order to share them because the files are stored and accessed online. In addition, it restricts viewers only to invited guests, as opposed to public sites where users may post video, for example, that can be seen by anyone.
As part of the beta, users will be able to share files up to 50Mbytes and will have 500Mbytes of free storage. Users can allow others to alter the shared files or restrict them to read only.
Other online services offer similar functionality, sometimes as part of online storage offerings. Xdrive LLC, Box.net and Omnidrive all offer services that let users store content online and share the content with invited guests by e-mailing them links to it.
Microsoft is also launching a controlled beta of Windows Live Photo Gallery, a photo service that upgrades the photo gallery capabilities in Vista, Hall said. One new feature is the ability to stitch photos together into a panorama. In addition, Windows Photo Gallery users can more easily share photos via Windows Live Spaces. Rather than hitting an upload button and scrolling through folders to choose a specific photo, users can select the photo in a file and quickly share it to Live Spaces.
For now, the betas are only available to users Microsoft has invited. The company plans a more open public beta in the third quarter.
The services will be part of the second generation suite of Windows Live services that will all become available in the fourth quarter. The goal of this new generation of services is to offer a cohesive feel for Windows Live, Hall said.
Key to all the second-generation services are allowing users to share content, access content anywhere and feel confident that the services are secure, he said.
These new Windows Live services, which also include Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Writer, embrace Microsoft's "software plus services" vision. That's because they combine software components with online services.