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Windows Live tries to show its social side

Microsoft is announcing a series of changes to its Windows Live services aimed to give more of a social-networking flavor to the company's communications services.

With the update, Spaces, Windows Live Hotmail, and Windows Live Messenger will get deeper ties with one another. While stressing that it is not trying to create a new social-networking site, Microsoft is nonetheless adopting concepts like news feeds and profiles that have made such services so popular.

"The general thing people are trying to do in all of these services is keep in touch," said Brian Hall, the general manager for Windows Live.

The software maker is trying to expand the amount of time users spend in Windows Live, which Hall said already gets 11 percent of all Internet minutes, thanks largely to the popularity of Hotmail and Messenger.

On top of those, Microsoft is adding a revamped Windows Live Home page that focuses on a news feed of actions taken by one's contacts as well as new types of views that focus on what a particular person or group is up to.

To populate its news feed, users will have the option to include their activities from a variety of other sites. The company has signed up reviews sites like Amazon and Yelp, blogging sites like WordPress and Twitter, as well as some less well-known social-networking sites.

"Facebook and MySpace are not on there right now," Hall said. "We're announcing a set of partners that are deploying in December."

Photo sharing is a particular area of focus, with Microsoft offering its own storage options, as well as linking to third-party sites such as Photobucket and Yahoo's Flickr. Starting next year, HP will also bundle Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery software with its consumer printers.

As for the changes to Windows Live itself, glimmers of the update are visible now, though most features are only in private testing and won't be visible to the masses until next month, Hall said. For example, the latest public beta version of Windows Live Messenger has a "What's new" feature, but for now it only shows things such as changing a profile picture within Messenger.

As part of the latest changes, Microsoft is also upping the amount of storage provided with its SkyDrive service to 25GB from 5GB.

Part of this wave of changes is also the update to Windows Live Hotmail, in which Microsoft has merged its standard and classic modes--a move that left some users grumbling.

Interestingly, Classic mode was an afterthought in the major Hotmail overhaul Microsoft did several years ago. Throughout the redesign, though, it took on added importance until it became the default mode when the revamped Web mail program ultimately launched.

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