Preview: Microsoft Windows Live, Part 2

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted June 22, 2006

In part one of our two-part series on Microsoft's Windows Live, we looked at what you can expect from Windows Live Mail and the new Windows Messenger. This week we delve into three other services: Windows Live Toolbar, Windows Live Safety Center, and Windows Live Favorites.

Tool Time
Windows Live Toolbar replaces the MSN Search Toolbar and offers a set of tools for searching the Web, including both a convenient search field that lets you perform a search from any Web page and a built-in pop-up blocker that identifies and cuts down on unwanted pop-up advertisements. You can choose to have the toolbar halt all pop-ups or allow some from certain sites through. Like its predecessor, the toolbar may be customized with buttons to display the functions that you use the most.

A fill-in function inserts your personal information into Web-based forms. To use it, you enter personal information (name, e-mail address, telephone number, etc.) into the program and when you set "Form Fill" to on, the feature fills in Web-based forms automatically — a true time saver. Your personal information is stored on your computer, not a central database, and it's password-protected.

A fantastic new feature called Onfolio offers a means to save, organize and share data that you find on the Web, which can include links, entire Web pages, portions of pages, e-mails, Office documents and more. The feature resides in its own pane that appears on the left side of the screen, and you can define folders within to store data.

When you want to file data, click on the "capture" button to store a Web page link or information on a page, or you can drag and drop data to it. After capture, you can add your own notes if you wish. Onfolio is a serious tool for people who do lots of Web-based research, and it's a welcome way to effectively manage the information.

A phishing filter constantly scans Web sites and alerts you to sites that appear to be asking for personal information. The filter goes further to block you from sharing personal information if a site is a known "phishing" site. The filter will be updated regularly through an online service run by Microsoft.

The toolbar also offers tabbed browsing support — a feature missing in earlier releases of Internet Explorer but set to finally make its long-overdue debut in IE 7 — so that you can open multiple pages in a window and easily switch between them. This allows you to effectively keep several unrelated sites open and immediately refer back to them. Once you get accustomed to tabbed browsing, there's no going back.

The Toolbar also detects RSS (Really Simply Syndication) feeds and helps you subscribe to them. This way, you can send updated information to your Live.com site, a customized homepage that serves content in a layout of your choosing. As an example, the page can be configured to display the weather in your hometown, the latest news headlines and Web search results. At press time, there were no system requirements listed for the Windows Live Toolbar.

Safe Computing

As the name implies, the Windows Live Safety Center is a free online service designed to protect your computer and fine-tune its operation. To start, the service's virus detection and cleaning software identifies and deletes viruses and malicious software and offers information on the latest security issues.

The center also evaluates hard drives for fragmentation and wasted disk space, and checks for open Internet ports that may leave a computer vulnerable to outside attack. If the scan detects any problems, it lists them and then lets you choose to take steps to remedy them.

In use, Windows Live Safety Center scanner is downloaded and installed on your computer the first time you perform a scan. After this, the scanner checks for updates whenever you execute a scan. This way, the scan is updated with the latest virus definitions and new versions of the software.

After scanning, the program offers you the option to share your results and other information with Microsoft, which will use it to improve the scanner. If you choose to share information, Microsoft guarantees that the company will not use the service to collect personal information. The scanner can also be uninstalled at any time if you wish.

Safety Center supports Windows XP Home Edition, Windows XP Professional, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows Server 2003, and Windows 2000 Server; and works with Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher or MSN 9.0. For now, the Safety Center is only available in an English version.

Windows Live Favorites

You probably have a personal list of Web favorites — sites that you check and visit on a regular basis. But when you're away from your home computer, you have to recall URLs, which tests both your memory and your typing skills. To address this, Windows Live Favorites offers a service that lets you conveniently access your Internet Explorer and MSN Explorer Favorites from anywhere you are online, similar to the Bookmarks feature in the new 4.0 version of the Google Toolbar. It's like having your home browser travel with you wherever you go.

You can save links and "tag" new sites even when you're away from your home computer. The service treats "tags" as subjects or categories, which help you to organize and later call them back. You can also choose to share favorites with other people or keep lists private. Live Favorites can be accessed anywhere from any computer that has Microsoft Internet Explorer version 6 SP1 (or later) or Mozilla Firefox.

Bottom Line
Microsoft is working to create a competitive future for its online products. Based on our look at beta versions of Windows Live Mail, Windows Messenger, Windows Live Toolbar, Windows Live Safety Center and Windows Live Favorites, we see lots of promising new services and programs that make far better and more efficient use of the Web than previous versions. These tools should easily keep Microsoft on pace with — and in many cases, ahead of — its competitors.

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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