Microsoft today announced a new photo sharing product, Microsoft Live Photos, which integrates very nicely with Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery desktop photo application, and is yet another product in the long list of Windows Live services that Microsoft introduced today. In many respects, Live Photos clearly competes directly with Yahoo's Flickr, though while it has a lot of Flickr's features, its focus is more on sharing pictures with a small group of friends or family than with the whole Internet. We have been using Live Photos for about two months now, and our overall impression is extremely positive.

Integration

As one would expect, Live Photos integrates directly with Microsoft's Photo Gallery. This integration is similar to Google's combination of Picasa Web Albums and the Picasa desktop application. You can upload photos, manage your galleries, and keep albums in sync. Live Photos will also be directly integrated into the new Live Toolbar, which will display previews of pictures that you and your friends have shared on the service.

Features

The web interface lets you see your photos as thumbnails, thumbnails with additional information, or as very small icons. The overall interface is similar to Flickr's, with a photo-strip for navigating your album at the top right of the screen. Underneath the strip is the general information about the photo you are currently looking at, as well as the individual web address for this photo.

One of the niftier features of Live Photos is the Slideshow function, which changes its background color depending on the dominant color of the current photo. This is a subtle effect, but it shows that Microsoft spent a lot of time on getting the details of this new product right.

You can share your albums with very granular permissions, and also share individual photos. Every photo can be tagged and your visitors can also leave comments.

Very Few Negatives

Overall, the Live Photos team did a great job in developing a product that would appeal to most mainstream users. We did not run into any real problems during our tests, but we came across a few functions that were still missing from the product.

It would, for example, be nice if you could choose the picture to represent your album on the front page. Currently, the first picture in every album is automatically set to represent this album across Windows Live.

Also, it would be nice to see how much space you have left on your SkyDrive account while uploading your pictures.

Verdict

These negatives, however, are indeed minor and the combination of the Windows Live Photo Gallery with the Live Photo service looks like a winner to us, especially in combination with SkyDrive, which now features 25GB of online storage.

In combination with the new Live Profiles and Live Groups, Microsoft has created a very comprehensive suite of social online sharing tools and matching desktop applications.