Microsoft News: Microsoft updating Windows Live apps

With no major update to Windows coming this year, Microsoft is counting on improvements to Windows Live to help boost the appeal of Windows for this year's holiday shopping season. "We're refreshing Windows 7 with a new suite of apps," general manager Brian Hall said in a telephone interview.

The updates to Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Movie Maker, Windows Live Mail, and Windows Live Sync will go into beta in the coming months, Hall said, declining to be more specific. The next version of the Windows Live Photo Gallery tool will add facial recognition abilities and improved editing tools for removing blemishes or scratches. Apple has had face detection in the most recent version of iPhoto, but until now Microsoft has only detected the presence of faces in shots, not tried to recognize who, exactly, was in the picture. Hall said Microsoft's face recognition features draw on the company's research efforts as well as tapping in to the user's existing network of social contacts to figure out who might be in a photo.

Another new feature in Photo Gallery is aimed at making for better group shots by letting people take multiple pictures and use one person's expression from one shot and another person's face in another shot, using technology to stitch together a composite image. The new software also allows photos that are uploaded and then tagged on Facebook to have those tags brought back into Photo Gallery. With the updates, Hall insisted, "Windows is better for photos than a Mac, hands down."

The updates to Movie Maker include the ability to upload to Facebook, the ability to import photo caption data from Photo Gallery, and new themes. Both programs will work with Windows Vista and Windows 7, but not the older Windows XP operating system. On the Sync front, Microsoft is merging its existing Sync and folder sharing tools as well as the Live Mesh product that had been released as a technical preview. The new Windows Live Sync lets users share an unlimited amount of files in a peer-to-peer fashion among a number of Macs and PCs, but limits cloud storage to 2GB. Users of the Live Mesh preview had access to 5GB of cloud storage, though that was made available to a small number of people, while Hall said the new Sync tool is designed to scale to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of users.

"We give people the most capability to access their files without saying all your files belong to us," he said, taking a jab at purely cloud-based rivals.

Microsoft on Wednesday outlined a series of improvements it's making to its Windows Live set of downloadable programs for managing photos and videos and keeping files in sync.

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