Setting the context
As I share my impressions at this point in the Wave 3 rollout I realize that we have yet to see the full picture. At this point we have seen the Betas of the client pieces of Wave 3, but with the exception of the Calendar upgrade released last night the server pieces (like Groups, Photos, Spaces, Hotmail, etc…) have not been upgraded and I have every reason to believe that great things are coming for those server pieces. So I fully anticipate updating this post with my impressions of those upgrades as they come out as well as revising my impression of the client side tools as server upgrades affect the client experience.
One of the major themes of Wave 3 so far seems to have been to revise the UI. More consistent branding (excluding Photo Gallery which for some reason deviates from Mail and Live Writer) along with a cleaner look with more white space seem to have been key areas of focus. Integrating Windows Live features throughout the suite seem to have been a focus as well, but after a year of largely silence for most of these tools I can’t escape the feeling that I wanted more. For example calendar integration for Mail is a great feature, but after a year I was expecting it. 6 months ago I would have been excited by it. I would have seen it as a satisfier. After a year I expected it and if it hadn’t been there it would have been a major dissatisfier. Couple that with the release of To-Do features on the server part of Calendar that are not exposed in the Client and I am left wanting (which in some ways could be seen as a good thing). The major disappointment is that based on the past year I am expecting to not see another Mail upgrade for another year with little communication on what will be in it.
Writer already had a decent extensibility story in V1 and I enjoyed leveraging the variety of plugins that were available. The new UX is nice, but doesn’t make a net difference for me (not negative, but not positive either). Writer didn’t have much to do in my opinion so little change here was expected. The addition of YouTube as a provider of videos (and as a destination for publishing) is nice. The integration story with Photo Gallery could have been improved (it is nonexistent). Being able to pullout pictures from the Gallery using tagging and dates is much easier than having to sort through all my folders and files as the current Add Picture experience forces me to do. As it is I open Photo Gallery find the pictures I want and use that to help me navigate to the right pictures in Live Writer.
Obviously as I mentioned above Calendar integration was a must for Mail. I have had great success with my parents and grandparents using Mail for email and for RSS which I have written about before. The RSS integration in Mail makes them feel like a blog article comes to them like an email and in a day when I still know IT people that don’t leverage RSS for my parents and grandparents to be using it is amazing in my opinion and a direct result of Mail being available as a desktop client (the fact that Google doesn’t have a better web integration experience for Reader and GMail continues to amaze me). I am disappointed that Mail doesn’t expose the To Do functionality just released for the server part of Calendar. I also am perplexed why clicking on Calendar changes the main window view, but clicking on Contacts opens up a completely separate window. The Contacts window acted like this in V1 as well, but with Calendar operating differently the lack of consistency in the UI in that regard is highlighted even more. Not a big deal just a little strange. Mail doesn’t have an extensibility story nor does it have integration with Windows Live Events in anyway (which you do have with the web experience for Calendar). Lastly does anyone still use the newsgroup feature? If so for what?
I have loved Photo Gallery over the last year. It is fast and focused on what I want to do. I loved the Panorama feature. Google stole a little bit of the thunder of the Photo Gallery upgrade when they released an update to Picasa that did facial recognition. There are subtle differences in implementation that need to be noted. Photo Gallery does recognition on the client while Google only exposes that functionality on the server I believe. Google does take facial recognition to the next level on the server side by grouping faces that it sees as being similar together to make tagging them quicker. I am not sure if Picasa goes to the next step by looking at previously tagged photos and trying to guess what tag should be applied to the faces. The facial recognition feature is the major feature in this Photo Gallery upgrade. Right now it’s usefulness is limited honestly. Without it detecting pictures that have the same face to allow for bulk tagging or even better detecting what you have tagged that face as and applying a tag automatically facial recognition feels like standard tagging which drags down the “coolness” of the feature. I can’t help but look ahead to the future with this feature because right now it simply makes little difference (especially considering that there is no way I going back to tag one by one the thousands of pictures I currently have in my library). The last thing of note on Photo Gallery is the new extensibility feature that allows extras to be added to the extras menu and exposes a publishing API. That is really nice and I look forward to a nice set of plug-ins coming out to enhance Photo Gallery.
I really like the Messenger upgrade. I have thought that Messenger needed a UI refresh for a while. It put front and center a lot of features that I and everybody I knew didn’t really use. So it was great to see the team recognize that and make a change. I love the Scene capability. I have thrown a couple of my own pictures in as scenes and it just looks great. I would like the ability to control how the picture gets cropped into the scene window (move the point of focus from the center). The integration of the What’s New feed is a nice subtle enhancement. I am a little confused at this point though because what I see on my Live Spaces What’s New feed doesn’t match up with what I am seeing in my Messenger feed even though clicking on the What’s New link in Messenger takes my to my Lives Space What’s New feed with completely different items in the feed. A little bizarre, but perhaps due to the Lives Space upgrade (that I am anxiously awaiting) not having rolled out yet. I like the Favorites feature that is something that I wouldn’t have called out explicitly before the release, but after seeing it I can’t help, but think – “yeah, I have always wanted that.” I love the change so that people are represented by their profile picture with coloring to tell you what their status is and that they reduced the number of statuses. I look forward to hearing how we can add stuff to the What’s New feed or customize what shows up as well. Based on my use so far I think my Messenger use will increase because of the upgrade (I also just started using Messenger with Facebook – I love the ability to sync my Messenger personal messages with Facebook).
Update: Eric Doerr of Microsoft comments on Movie Maker and where they are headed and his comments confirm that this is an earlier release of Movie Maker than what we see from the other Wave 3 betas. He says that a lot of energy has been spent on the backend engine to fix bottlenecks that existed in the version that shipped with XP and Vista. He even seems to suggest that the backend engine will support 3D…
Movie Maker is embarrassingly incomplete. Honestly I am surprised Microsoft shipped it. When Live Photo Gallery came out as a replacement for the Photo Gallery in Vista it had feature parity and had added the Panorama functionality. It was a worthy replacement. Movie Maker is almost laughable in how incomplete it is. It doesn’t feel like it is from MS. It doesn’t install on XP machines and people with Vista have the original Movie Maker so I have no idea who will ever use this version of Movie Maker. Here is hoping that the Movie Maker guys are very busy working to upgrade and enhance the product because if Windows 7 ships with this instead of something closer to what Windows Movie Maker does that will be a real disappointment.