For the past week I’ve been testing out several Beta applications associated with Windows Live. I initially learned about them while upgrading to the latest Windows Live Writer Beta. What I’ve seen so far has been exceptional. The unified interfaces, ease of use, and quick responsiveness have earned these apps a place in my daily workflow. In this article, I’ll cover some of the things I love and hate about Windows Live Writer Beta, Windows Live Mail Beta, and Windows Live Photo Gallery and how I’m using them now.

Windows Live Writer

LiveWriter48x48 Most of my posts these days are typed up in Windows Live Writer. Aside from a minor hiccup I had with a WordPress plugin – Bad Behavior wouldn’t accept external connections – I have not had any problems with Windows Live Writer. (FYI, disabling that plugin did the trick.)

Setup is a breeze. Writer can be used with a number of blogging services right out of the box. It has support for Windows Live Spaces, Sharepoint Blogs, WordPress, Blogger, MovableType and more. Additional features can be added through the use of plugins.

Windows Live Writer has to be one of the best desktop blogging apps I’ve ever used. I’ve used a number of applications on both the Mac and PC, and Windows Live Writer has been the easiest to learn and easiest to use by far.

Windows Live Mail Beta

Windows Live Mail icon Windows Live Mail is Microsoft’s answer to the aging Outlook Express client, and an evolution of the Microsoft Mail client available on Vista. Most notable about the application is the interface. It’s compact and lightweight, and from what I’ve seen so far renders HTML emails very well. I configured it to pull down a copy of my work email and also set it up to retrieve mail sent to my Google Apps account without any problems.

In addition to email, Windows Live Mail also serves as an RSS Reader and Newsgroups Client. There wasn’t an easy way to import an OPML file of the feeds I currently subscribe to. (Guess I’ll be sticking to NewsGator’s FeedDemon.) I did not test accessing Newsgroups either.

HTML Rendering seemed pretty spot on. I received several graphical emails from companies such as, Nike, Land of Nod and more and all of the messages came through without a hitch. I’m not sure how well it supports CSS, but I’ll be looking into the further in the very near future.

The only thing Windows Live Mail is missing is a calendar component. Outlook Express didn’t have this either, but I fully expect Microsoft to come out with a Windows Live Calendar application of some sort in the future. Aside from that, Windows Live Mail is surprisingly good.

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Windows Live Photo Gallery Prior to using Windows Live Photo Gallery I was using Google’s Picasa. Admittedly, there isn’t much difference between the two applications in terms of functionality, but Photo Gallery seems to be a bit quicker to me. Windows Live Photo Gallery supports most major image and video formats. It supports tagging, basic image editing (red eye removal, cropping, color adjustments).

Windows Live Photo Gallery seemed the least stable of the three applications. While editing photos on several occasions, the application crashed. The other downside to it is that plugin support isn’t available yet. By default, you can upload photos/videos to Windows Live Spaces or Windows Live Sandbox, but I use Flickr and YouTube. If Windows Live Photo Gallery supported uploading to those services – or any others for that matter – it’d become the de-facto app for casual users.

Windows Live Photo Gallery is a beta app, and it shows. It’s got a lot of potential though.

In Closing

It’s great to see Microsoft taking this approach to software development. Offering free software that doesn’t suck isn’t something Microsoft is exactly known for. Windows Live Writer is a best-of-breed application, and the other applications are showing a lot of promise.