Microsoft has launched a limited beta of its Windows Live file and photo sharing services.
These will form part of a suite of services making up a second generation of Windows Live, said Brian Hall, general manager of Windows Live at Microsoft.
Windows Live Folder, now available to selected beta users, is meant to allow file sharing without reliance on email, external USB devices or public sharing sites.
To use the service, users first create a new folder on the Live Folder page, then choose from a list of contacts or enter the email address of a person with whom they want 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 the email with the link to the recipient.
The service uses email to share a link, but users do not actually send the files in order to share them because the files are stored and accessed online. In addition, the service restricts viewers to invited guests – a different approach to that used on public sites where users may post videos, for example, that can be seen by anyone.
As part of the beta, users will be able to share files up to 50MB in size and will have 500MB of free storage. Users can allow others to alter the shared files or restrict them to read-only status.
Other online services offer similar functionality, sometimes as part of online storage offerings. Xdrive, Box.net and Omnidrive all offer services that let users store content online and share the content with invited guests by emailing 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 Windows Vista, Hall said.
One new feature is the ability to paste 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 of this year.
The services will be part of the second generation suite of Windows Live services that will all become available in the fourth quarter. The new generation of services is aimed at offering a cohesive feel for Windows Live, Hall said.
The second-generation services are all about allowing users to share content, access content anywhere and feel confident that the services are secure, he said.
The new Windows Live services, which also include Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Writer, embrace Microsoft's "software plus services" vision, combining software components with online services.