The Windows Live team has just pushed out a refresh of the Windows Live Essentials beta. This suite of add-on programs for Windows includes favorite apps like Messenger, Mail, Photo Gallery, Live Writer, Movie Maker and Family Safety, all of which can be optionally installed or skipped when you download the beta package.
According to news from Chris Jones, the beta has proved quite popular so far, with 3 million unique users in Messenger alone, 3.5 million updates to display pictures, 6.2 million video calls, and 7.6 million updates to status messages, just to give you a taste of some of the beta-related stats.
So what’s new this go-round? A lot, actually. Here’s the list of service improvements:
- A quicker Messenger – The time it takes to sign in, and to refresh contacts and social feeds, as well as animation speed, are all faster than in previous versions of Messenger.
- More efficient video chat – Messenger video chat uses 30% fewer CPU resources by offloading work to the GPU.
- Better facial recognition – Photo Gallery facial recognition is improved significantly and works more quickly.
- Larger movie uploads – Movie Maker will upload higher resolution movies to SkyDrive (480×640 vs. the previous 320×480).
- Higher bit-rate movies – Movie Maker now supports higher quality (bit-rate) content.
- Better spell-checking – Writer has significantly improved the quality of its spell-checking.
- Better integration with Office – Writer is much better at retaining all formatting when you copy and paste from Word and other Microsoft Office programs.
- Better handling of Gmail – Mail now automatically handles Gmail’s spam and trash folders properly.
- Faster web filtering – Family Safety web filtering is 35% faster than in the previous version.
There are also new features being introduced as well, like “quick previews” and an improved tree view in Photo Gallery, Flickr video publishing and “Snapshot” in Movie Maker, Bing Maps integration in Photo Gallery & Movie Maker, 640×480 video upload resolution to SkyDrive, Jump List integration in WLW plus some other improvements to formatting features and spellcheck, better alerts and reporting in Family Safety, support for Russian and German languages in addition to English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, and Simplified Chinese, and even more minor upgrades too numerous to list here.
But perhaps the feature I’m most excited about is Facebook chat via Live Messenger. I may hang out in “invisible mode” a lot on IM, but it’s nice to know that when I want to chat over my preferred communication service – that’s Facebook, actually, sorry GChat, AOL, & Messenger – I can. And I can do it without having to go to Facebook.com itself, which, quite frankly, can be a huge time suck I don’t always need.
To try out the new beta yourself, just head over to its homepage here and hit the “download now” button.