It has been a busy year. Not long after the Wave2 Windows Live release went out the door we immediately started planning for the next release. And here, before the end of 2008, is the latest refresh to Windows Live: Windows Live Essentials (Beta).

Just at a high level, these are the following changes you’ll see in the latest refresh of WLPG (Windows Live Photo Gallery) as compared to the Wave2 2008 version:

Editing

  • Noise reduction: new for our refresh release. This is a heavy duty intensive algorithm to look for noise in your picture and help smooth noise out and make it go away. If you’re shooting with a point and shoot camera at high ISO (usually in dark rooms) you end up with a lot of color noise dots. This helps to reduce that noise. It’s under “Adjust Detail” in the fix pane. It can be a very subtle effect but will make your noisy pictures look less distracting.
  • Straighten: we’ve added straighten to WLPG. In fact, it will first do an auto-straighten if possible. You can also tweak it so that you’re happy with the way things line up. I never realized how crooked of a shooter I was until I started shooting with my Canon Rebel. I’m going to use this feature a lot. The team was so happy with it, that Straighten was added to the Auto-Fix command.
  • Black and White: and not just one black and white effect but six.

Panoramic Stitching:

  • Improved! Our popular panoramic stitching engine has been updated (the same engine within I.C.E.). You’ll see more natural horizons and blue skies that blend together better.

Publishing to more and more places:

  • Skydrive: by default, WLPG now publishes your http://photos.live.com/ albums to your Skydrive.
  • Groups & Events: did you know that you can have photo albums for an event you create? It’s a great way of having everyone dump their photos into one spot to share with everyone else. Invite them to an event and then all they have to do is use WLPG and select Publish -> Event album and the event should be listed. Same for publishing to a group shared album.
  • Plug-ins! Rather than us write code for every popular place to publish photos (and keeping up with their changes) the WLPG team added the ability for smart folks to take our example flickr publish plug-in and customize it to publish photos and/or videos to different sites. http://blogs.msdn.com/pix/pages/Plug_2D00_ins.aspx contains the list of plug-ins we know about, including publishing to Facebook and SmugMug.

UI Improvements:

  • Star rating filter returns: it was in Vista Photo Gallery and removed for Wave2. It’s back.
  • More space: collapsible navigation tree: you can now make the navigation tree collapse to get more room. Either double click on the line drawn between the gallery list view and the navigation tree or just grab and move all the way to the left to make it go away. Click on the narrow arrow region that appears to make it come back.
  • More space: simpler navigation controls on bottom: we moved down to the lower status bar the next / previous / rotate / delete / slide-show / play buttons, along with the zoom controls and the view control. This gives you back vertical space to have more to enjoy your photos. Yeah!
  • More info in the Info Pane: when you select a photo, you’ll see more information in the Info Pane about the photo, like camera, author, exposure, aperture, focal length, and ISO. One: you can geek out over studying stuff like this to improve your photography. (2) it can help explain sometimes why something doesn’t look right (like the time I accidently put my camera into ISO 1600 in bright, bright daylight).
  • Brighter: the overall UI is brighter and leaner, removing icons from the command bar.

People Tagging:

  • Contacts: when you sign-in to your Live ID, we now download your Live Contacts into WLPG.
  • Simple people tagging: whether you’re signed in or not, this allows you to say who is in a photo by entering a name. Good!
  • Contact people tagging: you can also people tag someone in a photo who is specifically from your contacts list. Great!
  • Face tagging: in addition to just saying “Eric Richards” is in the photo, you can point me out in the photo. You can draw a rectangle around my face or, if I’m looking directly into the camera, we’ve probably auto-detected that there’s a face there and you can just click on that face to call out that it is me.
  • “That’s Me!” tagging: once you’re signed in, you can also go through the photos quickly noting where you are.
  • People in the navigation tree: in the navigation tree, you can look at your photos by folder, by date, by descriptive tags, or by the people in your photos. And if you’re signed in we have your address book and you can drill in to find your family or coworkers. Click on them to see the photos you’ve tagged them in and a little extra…
  • Person page: when you click on a person in the navigation tree, you get a special view of all the photos that person has been tagged in and (if they have a Live ID) which albums they’ve published to Live Photos and a quick way to visit their Live Photos Page.
  • Profile pictures: if your contact has a Live ID and they’ve set a profile picture, we’ll show it when you click on them in the navigation tree and we’ll show it when you’re tagging people via our people selector box.

Additional features:

  • Offline sign-in: you can sign-in now even if you’re not connected to the network. We’ll, after you’ve signed in at least once while on-line to let the system cache what it knows about you. This way, even if you’re off the network, you can still have your contacts loaded and do some people tagging and viewing.
  • Windows Live Sync: if you’re a Windows Live Sync user, you can synchronize your photos now between your PCs, including the originals that we save away in your application data so that you can always restore an original after doing some edits.
  • Touch: we’ve done some Touch features that you’ll get to enjoy when you’re running Windows 7.
  • Blog posting: you can fire up Windows Live Writer within WLPG to blog about a set of photos.
  • Extras: while it’s a nifty idea to try to do everything in WLPG (create photosynths, do some geo-tagging, auto, etc.) we just can’t do it all. You can at least install some of our premier photo tools and then find and select the photos in WLPG and launch the appropriate nifty application via the Extras menu.
  • Meta-data control: under the options menu there is more level of detail about what kind of meta-data you want preserved or stripped out when you share your photos.
  • Tag Clean-up: sometimes you end up with descriptive tags that no longer apply to your photo set. You can especially run into if you have a load of hyper-tagged stock photos and then get rid of them. You can now go and have WLPG scrub your tag database to remove any tags no longer associated with photos.

And there’s a lot more that happened under the hood, so to say. I’m very proud to work with the engineering team that made this year’s worth of work on Windows Live Photo Gallery possible.

Larry Osterman recently talked about Feature Crews (http://blogs.msdn.com/e7/archive/2008/10/15/engineering-7-a-view-from-the-bottom.aspx ) and I have to say that the Photo Gallery feature Dev, Test, and PM members did an excellent job driving the decisions and work to get their features implemented. The product has remained solid for the development cycle
s, which is hard when your hooking up some major new gears, so to say.

And now we’re out with a new refresh! Enjoy! Be sure to get a Live ID, set a profile picture, and publish some photos up to your Skydrive and play around with it. While you’re on the new http://home.live.com/ site, note that you can import your contacts from Facebook or LinkedIn to start building your contact list for People Tagging. And man, if you’re on Facebook, you should go to our plug-ins page and that the Facebook plug-in for publishing photos to your Facebook account.

Drop by our official team blog (http://blogs.msdn.com/pix/ ) to learn more about the current refresh and to pose any questions + issues.