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Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Windows Live online suite grows

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft is renewing its online-services push with products for storing and sharing photos and files.

The company planned to announce today the release of test versions of Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Folders, adding to a suite of more than 20 services in various stages of development.

The Live services effort represents Microsoft's broad play in a growing area of the software industry.

Often referred to as "software as a service," these applications are designed to be accessed by users anywhere on the Internet.

They are typically not tied to traditional desktop computing, and end users often don't pay for them directly. Instead ads fund the services.

A host of companies are offering these products for businesses and consumers, including some of Microsoft's top rivals, Google and Yahoo!

Microsoft's Live Photo Gallery application allows people to easily publish photos stored on their computers to their personal Web pages maintained through Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces — a competitor to popular sites such as MySpace.com.

For now, the application will only link up with Live Spaces, but that may change later, said Chris Jones, a corporate vice president heading the Windows Live effort.

Live Folders is perhaps the more anticipated release of the two new services, which are scheduled for broad availability at the end of this year. It will enable users to store and access up to 500 megabytes of data remotely for free on Microsoft's servers, such as those housed in a "server farm" recently completed in Quincy, Grant County.

Live Folders aims to make it easy to share and control access to files stored online, Jones said.

This Internet-based storage, sometimes called "storage in the cloud," is already offered by several companies, such as Omnidrive, which provides twice as much storage for free, and AOL's Xdrive.

Jones said Microsoft will have an advantage because of its large customer base using both its online services, such as Windows Live Hotmail, and its desktop software, Windows and Office.

Microsoft aims to "make a great seamless experience that connects those things together," he said.

Kip Kniskern, a contributor to Liveside.net, a Web site tracking Microsoft's efforts in this area, said the company will likely attract users who want to be sure remote file storage is secure and reliable.

"If Microsoft is going to do this, your stuff is going to be there," he said.

Some analysts say users are unaware Microsoft has such a broad suite of online services. Part of that is because the services don't yet mesh together well, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"I'm still not seeing a really coherent integration strategy," he said.

Jones acknowledged there is some customer confusion about the broad array of offerings and how they fit together. He said the coming wave of Windows Live services will seek to reduce that.

For example, one product in the works will allow users to download several Live services at once, rather than discovering them one at a time.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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