Microsoft adding more networking to Windows Live

SEATTLE – Microsoft Corp. is planning a Windows Live update in the
coming weeks that adds social networking features to the software
maker’s instant messaging program, free Hotmail e-mail service and
other sites.

This overhaul positions the software maker as a competitor to News
Corp.’s MySpace, Facebook and other popular online hangouts. Microsoft
claims hundreds of millions of Web e-mail and instant messenger users,
but is still seen as a laggard when it comes to understanding the
Internet.

In the newer version of Windows Live, disparate contact lists from
Live Messenger, Hotmail and Spaces, Microsoft’s blog network, are
pulled together into one place. Users can set up a “network” of people
from that list, then swap details of their daily online lives with
friends.

An area on the redesigned Windows Live home page could show, for
example, a running list of friends’ Twitter messages, Flickr photo
uploads, Yelp reviews and WordPress blog entries. A chunk of the Live
Messenger buddy list window will also display those tidbits from
friends’ activities on Microsoft partners’ sites.

When users add new digital pictures to the “photos” section of Windows
Live, those snapshots will be shared with their network of friends,
who can identify themselves in the photos or leave comments. And a new
“groups” feature lets people invite friends to an online group page
where they can upload photos, post messages and share events on a
calendar.

With those improvements, Windows Live will become more similar to
Facebook, one of the biggest online hangouts in the U.S. Brian Hall,
general manager for Windows Live, said Wednesday that Microsoft’s aim
is to bring the best features from sites like MySpace and Facebook –
the top two social networking sites in the U.S. – to Windows Live.

“What we see the focus needing to be now is, essentially, on the race
to simplify the Web,” Hall said. “I shouldn’t have to do the same
thing on multiple networks. … That’s the core problem that we’re
solving.”

In an interview, Hall acknowledged that established Facebook or
MySpace users aren’t likely switch to Windows Live. And so far,
Microsoft hasn’t struck a deal with either of those sites to pull
status messages and other details into Windows Live, though Hall said
to “stay tuned.”

Starting in early 2009, Microsoft is also making a handful of changes
to Hotmail. With the new version, PC users can send messages from any
of their POP-enabled e-mail accounts – another Hotmail address or a
Gmail address, for instance – and read Hotmail in other programs that
support POP e-mail technology. The software maker also built instant
messaging capabilities into Hotmail.

By JESSICA MINTZ AP Technology Writer

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