We didn't like Windows Desktop Search (complicated and too few search options, but that's for another day), so we uninstalled WDS, only to discover that we would be forced to use it if we wanted to use the Windows Live Suite Photo Gallery feature. Maybe this is what Microsoft calls "integration," but it is just the kind of thing that gets us steamed.
In defense of integration: Windows Live email and photo gallery and messenger all cross-pollinate, with links connecting one to the other. We've found this to be about 10 percent more convenient than whatever we were doing before.
You can use messenger to make phone calls at "incredibly low rates" from Verizon (yes, it actually says that in the app). Or just use your phone with the rate plan you already spent three months trying to understand.
Back to Photo Gallery: It does what it says. It will find the photos in your My Pictures folder, put them on the screen and facilitate some basic editing: Fine-tune the lighting, crop, rotate. To work with another folder you'll need to import that folder into the gallery, a quick and simple procedure.
The Photo Gallery has an especially attractive preview feature. Position your mouse over a thumbnail for a couple of seconds and a preview emerges, smaller than a full-sized picture but bigger than a thumbnail. Now move the mouse along the gallery's rows of thumbnails, and previews spring up each time the mouse crosses over a picture. Convenient, and it saves squinting.
Finally there is the Windows Live Toolbar, arguably either the worst or the best of the Windows Live components. The toolbar parks itself at the top of your Internet Explorer window. It lets you manage pop-ups, pick up RSS feeds, and fill in Web forms instantly.
The toolbar also can be customized with a dazzling array of stuff you already have bookmarked: eBay, Amazon, maps, MSNBC, YouTube, and more.
This is the best of Windows Live, delivering a wealth of Web content through a discreet toolbar and a collection of straightforward buttons. It's also the worst of this conception. Try as we might, we just don't see the need for most of this stuff.
All these functions, all this content ? it all is readily available and most of it stares at us from our desktop even as we type this. If the Windows Live Suite interface is neither especially more convenient nor significantly more exciting than what we are using, what exactly does Microsoft have in mind?
Of course, many of the Windows Live apps are still in beta, so perhaps there is more and better yet to come.
The suite currently includes the following apps and services: Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Toolbar, Windows Live OneCare Family Safety, and the Windows Live Sign-in Assistant.
This article was first published on WinPlanet.