Utility Spotlight: A Look at Windows Live Essentials 2011

Windows Live Essentials includes a suite of applications for image editing and sharing, video editing and instant messaging.

Lance Whitney

Windows Live Essentials 2011 offers a variety of tools and applications. Though some of these tools are geared more for individual or home users, most of them can be equally effective and helpful in a business environment. In October, I gave you a detailed look at Windows Live Mesh 2011. Now, let’s check out a few of the other selections in the Windows Live Essentials suite, which were unveiled by Microsoft this past September.

In addition to Live Mesh, Live Essentials 2011 includes Windows Live Messenger, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Live Mail, Live Writer, Family Safety, Bing Bar, Messenger Companion, Outlook Connector Pack and Microsoft Silverlight. You can grab the full suite and get more details from the Windows Live Essentials download page. Installing the downloaded wlsetup-web.exe file gives you the option to install any or all of the programs.

Windows Live Photo Gallery is a fairly basic photo editor, but it still has a core set of useful features. It could be a viable alternative to a more-powerful and expensive photo editor, especially if you need to occasionally tweak photos on the job, but don’t need a costly application with a lot of bells and whistles.

As you’d expect from its name, Photo Gallery can also organize your photos as well as your videos. It displays thumbnails for all the items it finds. Besides searching your Windows Pictures and Videos folders or libraries, it can scan any local or network folder to incorporate and display additional images. Beyond its role as a simple organizer, Photo Gallery is a capable editor.

For quick editing, Photo Gallery can automatically adjust a range of elements, such as color, exposure and noise reduction. You can choose from a variety of effects to visually alter an image’s tint or just convert a color photo to black and white. If you need more precise control, you can manually adjust several features from brightness to contrast to sharpness. Photo Gallery even displays a histogram chart as another option for tweaking certain elements (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 You can quickly edit image elements with Windows Live Photo Gallery

Figure 1 You can quickly edit image elements with Windows Live Photo Gallery

You can tag a photo with the subject name, location or caption, and then search for images based on that information. You can also post individual photos or a slide show of images to Facebook, YouTube and other sites. This integration with social networking sites could be problematic for some business users, as many enterprises restrict or limit access to social networks for security reasons. Nevertheless, this option is available if your company allows employees to tap into social networking sites.

Windows Live Movie Maker

Like Photo Gallery, Movie Maker provides a basic set of features. It’s a capable tool for video editing, especially if you don’t need (or can’t justify) an expensive video editor. Through its simplicity, Movie Maker is also easier to work with than many third-party editors.

As with any video editor, you can add videos, photos and music. The program supports all major image and video formats for importing. You can move your clips around, trim clips by setting start and edit points, and adjust the audio. Movie Maker provides a small but handy library of animations and other visual effects to segue from one scene to another. You can also create your own titles, captions and credits. You can format your video for a standard 4-3 ratio or a widescreen 16-9 ratio.

When you’re done, you save your video as a WMV file. You can also e-mail it, burn it directly to a DVD, or post it on Facebook, YouTube or another site. Movie Maker lets you create the WMV file in a high-resolution format to display on a computer or in a lower-resolution format designed more for a mobile device (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Windows Live Movie Maker is an inexpensive video editing solution

Figure 2 Windows Live Movie Maker is an inexpensive video editing solution

Windows Live Messenger

As the Windows Live Essentials IM client, Windows Live Messenger provides basic instant messaging features, along with video chatting. As with most of the other tools, it’s now more socially interactive. You can message your Facebook friends to view their updates, send e-mail or chat with them directly. You can also add contacts from your Outlook address list and from other social networks such as LinkedIn.

And the Rest ...

Some of the other tools and applications in Windows Live Essentials 2011 are also worth considering, depending on your business environment and needs.

Windows Live Mail is the alternative Microsoft e-mail client. Because most Microsoft shops already run Outlook, Live Mail is more suited for individual use. The Outlook Connector Pack imports e-mail from Windows Live Mail accounts, but can also display messages from Office Live Mail, which small businesses with Office Live accounts may find of value.

Windows Live Blogger is another application more likely suited for personal use if you’re blogging on your own. It does let you blog directly to SharePoint—as well as to dedicated third-party blogging services—so it can be a useful tool if you host your intranet or corporate blogs on SharePoint.

Overall, Live Messenger, Photo Gallery and Movie Maker are the three programs that could most easily find a home among businesses, especially ones looking to cut the costs of third-party software. Of course, IT administrators will want to take into account the social networking integration of those applications if corporate policies limit or restrict user access to such sites.

Windows Live Essentials 2011 runs under Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 SP2 and later, but does not support Windows XP.

Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a writer, IT consultant and software trainer. He’s spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world in the early ’90s.