San Francisco -- The Redmond, Wash., software giant Microsoft, reinforced its battle for Internet popularity on Thursday by beefing up its Windows Live suite of online applications with the addition of new communications and social networking tools, with plans to build bridges to Twitter, Flickr and other popular websites.
Microsoft intends to place Windows Live with its widely-used e-mail and messaging services as the center for an increasing number of Internet applications and incorporate new features similar to those found on popular social networks.
An investor in the popular social networking site Facebook Inc., Microsoft has hundreds of millions of e-mail and instant-messaging users. But, like Yahoo, it has yet to tap the underlying social networks that connect those users.
Brian Hall, general manager for Windows Live, says Microsoft is attempting to develop a central hub where people can interact easily, whether sharing photos or planning events. That is an ambition that mirrors Yahoo Inc.’s, and the strategy situates Microsoft into competition with social networking sites like Facebook and News Corp.’s MySpace, which started to open their fast-growing websites to outside software developers last year. Google Inc. is pursuing a similar strategy with its OpenSocial initiative.
Windows Live is a collection of Microsoft online services including Internet search, instant messaging and Hotmail email.
Hall underscored that Microsoft was trying to simplify the Web experience by bringing together people and content scattered all over the Web and across personal computers, phones and other devices. Having one central place to organize and manage information relieves some of the social networking fatigue people are experiencing, he said.
To that end, Microsoft formed partnerships with a number of companies including LinkedIn Corp., Photobucket Inc. and Twitter.
The “next generation” of Windows Live updates photo-sharing, email, and instant messaging, and allows ties to websites such as Pandora, LinkedIn, PhotoBucket and Yelp.
“Microsoft’s Windows Live is an exciting new platform that enables new experiences for both Photobucket and Microsoft users that would not otherwise be possible,” said Alex Welch, president of the photography community website.
“Online photo sharing is an important part of people’s everyday lives and ... Photobucket is thrilled to be teaming up with Windows Live to make this experience even easier for users.”
“It is a race to see who will work better and faster with everyone else,” said Charlene Li, founder of consulting company Altimeter Group. “It is the recognition that you can not be an island of yourself.”
Other new services include an online movie maker program, a “groups” service that allows a group of users to create a joint calendar, share photos and documents or chat together online. Microsoft also plans to increase the size of its free storage service to 25 gigabytes from 20 GB.
Microsoft boasts more than 460 million Windows Live users and analysts said the goal for the company is to keep that audience in front of the company’s websites for as long as possible and to prevent defection to other Web destinations.
“I do not think Microsoft is going to steal a whole lot of eyeballs from Facebook or MySpace,” said David Card, research director at Forrester.
Microsoft is also integrating Windows Live with third-party social networking sites. Users will be able to pull in feeds from the Twitter micro-blogging service and share photos through Flickr. Address books from Facebook, Hi5, and Bebo will be accessible directly within Windows Live “so you do not have to manage multiple networks of friends,” said Hall, in his blog post.
Another new set of tools, called Windows Live Essentials, will create a bridge between users PCs and online content stored on Windows Live. The tools will help users manage their e-mail and calendars, even when offline, create blogs, and more easily tag and post photos.
“Think of Windows Live as the single place where people using our e-mail, messaging and photo-sharing services can stay connected,” said Chris Jones, vice president of Windows Live Experience Program Management at Microsoft.
“Our customers have friends across the Web. They communicate through many unconnected Web services and want access to it all from a single location without worrying about how it is done. Now ‘Windows Live’ takes care of that.”
Along with revamping Windows Live, Microsoft announced alliances with Hewlett-Packard and China Telecom Corporation Ltd.
HP will pre-install Windows Live photo gallery software on printers it sells starting next year and China Telecom will put Windows Live Messenger on computers and mobile devices it builds.