BUILD: Windows 8 and the future of Windows Live

It’s the first day of Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and by now I’m sure you’ve all seen Steven Sinofsky’s keynote demoing the next generation of Windows, codenamed Windows 8. One of our biggest question before the BUILD conference was: what role will Windows Live play in Windows 8 and what the future of Windows Live looks like? By sifting through all the press materials and fact sheets, we’ll summarise what we know about Windows Live and Windows 8 here in a few bullet points:

What we know from BUILD

  1. Windows 8 Start ScreenOut-of-the-box Windows Live apps. Several Windows Live Essentials apps, such as Windows Live Mail and Messenger (and perhaps even Photo Gallery), will be available in Windows 8 right out of the box. These apps will likely to be featured as “hubs” with Live Tiles, and integrates with other services like Facebook and LinkedIn, much like how Windows Phone currently works. Here’s an excerpt from the press materials:

    From your first login, Windows 8 gives you a rich selection of apps for your everyday needs. Mail, Calendar, Photos and Messaging are just a few of the new essential apps for Windows 8 powered by Windows Live.

  2. Windows Live SkyDrive to power cloud storage and synchronisation. Currently Windows Live Mesh is the service that powers synchronisation of files, folders and limited settings (such as Internet Explorer favorites and Office settings) across different PCs. In Windows 8, this functionality will be built right in the OS, and will be powered by Windows Live SkyDrive. Instead of just files and folders, it now expands to all of your apps, content and settings on Windows 8. We believe this is still based on the Mesh technology, but branded simply as “SkyDrive” (remember Brian Hall previously said that they’re looking to turn SkyDrive into a destination application). Here’s an excerpt from the press materials:

    With Windows 8, all your favorite content — Photos, Music, Documents, Contacts, Calendar, Mail, apps and settings — stays up-to-date and can roam with you so you have a seamless, cloud-powered experience that you carry with you across all your devices. With Windows Live SkyDrive, your apps, content and settings are synched across any Windows 8 PC associated with your Microsoft account.

  3. Live Connect is the new name for Windows Live developer services. Expanding on the current capabilities of “Messenger Connect”, the new “Live Connect” will expand capabilities to Hotmail (Calendar and Contacts) and SkyDrive too. Yes, you’ve heard right, SkyDrive APIs are finally coming, as we’ve accurately predicted. Here’s an excerpt from the press materials:

    Live Connect provides a set of controls and APIs that enable applications to integrate Single Sign On (SSO) with Microsoft connected accounts and enable users to access information from SkyDrive, Hotmail, and Messenger. Apps can recognize the user and personalize the experience by leveraging SSO, provide access to the user’s contacts and calendar from Hotmail, or upload photos, documents, and other content to SkyDrive.

    Live Connect also makes sure that the cloud services you use the most are fully integrated into your computing experience. Your Facebook and LinkedIn contacts (or information from over 100 other services around the world) are automatically added to Windows Live Contacts, so you can see social feeds, send an SMS, or post to Facebook quickly and easily.

  4. Windows Live ID to power the seamless cloud experience on Windows 8. Interestingly, throughout the press materials Microsoft has been referring to this as “Microsoft account” rather than "Windows Live ID”. We’ve seen Windows Live ID integration in early Windows 8 builds, so this comes as no surprise. Very much like Windows Phone, all of your apps, contents, and settings will follow you using the Windows Live ID you sign in with. This will also power almost everything that will be available on your PC, from your e-mails, contacts and calendar entries, all the way to photos, videos, music and documents. Here’s an excerpt from the press materials:

    When you sign in with your connected Microsoft account to another PC running Windows 8, your Metro style apps and settings go with you, so it’s just like you’re using your own PC. You’ll also be signed in to all of the websites you were signed in to. Your connected account is like a portable, personal PC that appears on any Windows 8-based PC you’re using. You’re always ready to pick back up where you left off no matter where you are.

What we don’t know from BUILD

While we know that Windows Live will be playing a very prominent role in Windows 8, there are still several things we’re unclear on. We’ll summarise these questions below:

  1. While we sort of know what form the future of Windows Live Mail, Messenger, Mesh and potentially Photo Gallery will look like, what we don’t know is what will apps like Movie Maker and Writer look like in the future? Will they also come out-of-the-box with Windows 8? Or will they be available as separate apps downloadable from the Windows Store?
  2. If Microsoft goes the full Metro style for Windows Live Essentials apps, what will happen to existing Windows 7 users? Will we see two types of Windows Live Essentials apps for Wave 5, one for the Metro style apps, and another for the classic Windows 7 applications?
  3. Microsoft is still not fully out of their antitrust cases, with the European Commission still monitoring what Microsoft can bundle with Windows. By introducing these “hubs” concepts for Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and Messaging in Windows 8 – how far will Microsoft go in terms of allowing third party developers (i.e. competing services) to integrate into the OS? How will Microsoft differentiate its Hotmail, Messenger and SkyDrive products from others, without crossing the line on antitrust regulators?

It’s certainly interesting days ahead for Windows Live, and there’s still lots more to find out. This is possibly the biggest investment on Windows Live ever since it was launched in 2006, which explains nicely why we’ve been hearing some of the biggest improvements coming its way for SkyDrive. Oh, and did we mention that there’s no signs of Zune in everything we’ve seen today?