In November, Microsoft released a major update to its Windows Live online services. Today, Microsoft also released the new versions of its Windows Live Essentials desktop tools that accompany the online services. The Windows Live Essentials suite includes updates for Live Mail, Live Messenger, Live Writer, Live Photo Gallery, Live Movie Maker, Live Toolbar, Office Outlook Connector, and Windows Live Family Safety. There are also a two new additions: Windows Live Sync and the Office Live Add-In. Silverlight is now also part of the Live Essentials suite.

Connecting the Desktop to the Cloud

All of these applications are meant to complement the Windows Live online experience and work closely together. You can, for example, use Windows Live Sync to keep your online and offline photo albums in sync. Live Sync has replaced FolderShare.

We tested the new versions of the Live Essentials for the last few weeks and all of them represent a major update to the older versions.

Even if you don't typically use the Microsoft's Live services, installing the Live Photo Gallery, for example, is well worth a try thanks to its seamless integration with Live Photos and SkyDrive. This new version compares quite well with Google's Picasa 3 and also lets you upload photos to Flickr. Photo Gallery also ties in with other Microsoft tools like Auto Collage or PhotoSynth.

Windows Live Writer, on the other hand, is more of an evolutionary update, but it is the favorite blogging client for a lot of us Windows users here at RWW and the update makes handling media files a lot easier.

Also worth a look are the enhanced Live Toolbar and the Windows Live Messenger, which has received a major facelift. The Live Toolbar (IE only) now displays your updates from the Windows Live online services, including new messages and pictures from friends. You can also use the toolbar to sync your IE7 and 8 bookmarks between different computers.

Software Plus Services

The real selling point for the Live Essentials suite, however, is how well all the apps play together, both online and offline. Live Photos, for example, can use your Live Messenger and Hotmail contact lists for tagging faces, or the Live Messenger connecting to your status updates on your Live Profile page. The one Live Service that has remained behind, though, is Live Mesh, which seems to be on its own development track. We assume, however, that it will be merged into the Live services at some point.