We have talked quite a bit about SkyDrive and using your Microsoft account for the sign-in and roaming capabilities of Windows 8. These are just two aspects of a broad service infrastructure that you can tap into when using Windows 8 (and Windows Phone, Xbox LIVE, and a host of other services and apps). We want to talk more about the capabilities and features of cloud services for Windows 8 and Windows Phone. To get started, Chris Jones, the VP of our Windows Live group responsible for the development and operations of all of the services and apps, authored this post to introduce the reimagined role of cloud services in Windows 8.
--Steven


Windows Live was first announced on November 1st, 2005, and in our press release we described it as “a set of personal Internet services and software designed to bring together in one place all of the relationships, information and interests people care about most, with more safety and security features across their PC, devices and the Web.”  Since that time, we’ve been hard at work building software and services that deliver that promise, a foundation that we could rely on as we designed new versions of Windows as well as other Microsoft products. We’ve received lots of feedback about features and ways we could improve the software and services. And we’ve also received some feedback about the naming and marketing we have done. Windows 8 is a chance for us to act on that feedback and reintroduce you to the broadest and most widely used collection of services on the Internet.

Today, Windows Live services are used by over 500 million people every month.  There has been a lot of discussion recently on what constitutes an “active” user of a service; for the purposes of this post this term refers to people who use Hotmail, SkyDrive, or Messenger at least once a month, meaning they send email, use instant messaging, or upload files to SkyDrive.

These services run at massive scale – Hotmail is the world’s leading web email service, with 350 million active users and 105 petabytes of storage; Messenger is the world’s leading instant messaging service, with 300 million active users, and SkyDrive has over 130 million users with 17 million of these uploading files every month. Windows Live Essentials applications are among the most popular applications in their categories on Windows – including Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Movie Maker, leading in photo management and video editing, and Windows Live Mail, second only to Microsoft Outlook in mail apps.

While these results are certainly noteworthy, they still did not meet our expectations of a truly connected experience.  Windows Live services and apps were built on versions of Windows that were simply not designed to be connected to a cloud service for anything other than updates, and as a result, they felt “bolted on” to the experience. This created some amount of customer confusion, which is noted in several reviews and editorials.  The names we used to describe our products added to that complexity: we used “Windows Live" to refer to software for your PC (Windows Live Essentials), a suite of web-based services (Hotmail, SkyDrive, and Messenger), your account relationship with Microsoft (Windows Live ID), and a host of other offers. 

Windows 8 provides us with an opportunity to reimagine our approach to services and software and to design them to be a seamless part of the Windows experience, accessible in Windows desktop apps, Windows Metro style apps, standard web browsers, and on mobile devices. Today the expectation is that a modern device comes with services as well as apps for communication and sharing.  There is no “separate brand” to think about or a separate service to install – it is all included when you turn on your PC for the first time. 

We also believe that you should have a choice and control over what services you use, what information you share (with others and Microsoft), and how you access your services. That’s why using any of these services is optional, and you’re welcome to mix and match them with the software and services you choose.


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Microsoft account is our identity service for individuals who use Microsoft products and services. You can use your Microsoft account to sign in to your Windows 8 PC, and then use the same account to check your billing for services like Xbox LIVE, Zune, and the Windows 8 app store.  And your Microsoft account is connected to your Xbox gamer tag so you can track high scores and games.  You can sign up for a Microsoft account with any email address, and provide additional verification information including your mobile phone number and a list of your trusted devices.  We’ll be rolling out the change in nomenclature from Windows Live ID to Microsoft account over the next several months across our product line. There are still some areas we continue to work on such as migrating your account (credit cards and purchase history) from one market (currency) to another if you’ve connected your account to services such as Xbox LIVE.

When you connect a device or service to your Microsoft account, you’re automatically provisioned with a set of cloud services, including a contact list, calendar, inbox, instant messaging, and cloud storage.  Of course these services connect to your PC and your Windows Phone, they’re accessible from any web browser, and they’re accessible to different apps if the developer of the app implements our API.  Because these services are a part of your Microsoft account, they are shared across all Microsoft products and services.  For example your contact list is shared across Windows Phone, Windows 8, Hotmail, Messenger, and SkyDrive, so when you add a contact in one place, it shows up in the cloud and on all of your other devices and services.

Windows 8 also uses cloud services to roam settings across your PCs so you can log in to a new PC and pick up right where you left off.  Along with a Microsoft account, everyone gets a SkyDrive, which is cloud storage for documents, photos, your phone’s camera roll, and settings from your PC.  SkyDrive powers the Windows Phone camera roll, so every picture you take is automatically copied to your cloud photo album.  SkyDrive makes it easy for you to share and collaborate on Office documents, either using Office Web Apps or Office client applications. And developers can use the SkyDrive APIs to provide an even deeper level of roaming and support in their apps if they choose. Through the innovative features of Contracts and File Pickers in Windows 8, you can access your SkyDrive data from within any Windows 8 Metro style app.

We recognize that customers will have services from many different companies, particularly for social networking and communications.  So we let you connect your Microsoft account to other services.  Just like our contact list, your connected services are stored in the cloud and roam across your devices.  This means that if you connect your Microsoft account to LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, your contacts from these networks show up in your contact list, so you can send them email from your PC or call them from your phone.  We also support 3rd party developers through the Live SDK, allowing developers to cloud-power their Metro style apps, or apps and services for other platforms.  Our APIs use standard and familiar protocols including OAuth 2.0, JSON, REST, Exchange ActiveSync, and XMPP.

Windows 8 is designed to be cloud-powered, so it comes with Metro style apps for communication, sharing, scheduling, photos, and videos. Preview versions of these apps come installed with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and include Mail, Calendar, People, Photos, Messaging, and SkyDrive.  They’re all powered by cloud services, so when you sign in with your Microsoft account, your email, calendar, contacts, messages, and shared photo albums show up right in your apps.  For customers who have shared family PCs, family safety is now a feature of Windows accounts and no longer requires a separate download. As we’ve discussed before, Windows Phone comes with the same set of apps, powered by cloud services, and connected to your Microsoft account.  For customers who use Windows 7, we have a set of Windows desktop apps, including Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mail, Messenger, Family Safety, and our recently released SkyDrive for the Windows desktop

The chart below breaks down our software and services in the new world of Windows 8:

Service

Windows 8

Windows Phone

Web/HTML 5

(live.com)

API (dev.
live.com)

Earlier Versions

Account

Microsoft account

Microsoft account

Account.live.com

OAUTH

Windows Live ID, Passport

Storage/
Docs

SkyDrive app, SkyDrive Desktop

SkyDrive app, Office app

SkyDrive.com

REST, JSON

FolderShare, Live Mesh, Windows Live Mesh

Email

Mail app

Mail app

Hotmail.com

EAS

Windows Live Mail, Outlook Express

Calendar

Calendar app

Calendar app

Calendar.live.com

EAS, REST

Windows Live Mail, Windows Calendar

Contacts

People app

People app

People.live.com

EAS, REST

Windows Contacts

Messaging

Messaging app

Messaging app

Integrated in Hotmail and SkyDrive

XMPP

MSN Messenger

Photos/ Videos

Photos app, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker

Photos app, Camera Roll

Photos.live.com

REST, JSON (via SkyDrive)

Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live Movie Maker

In the coming weeks we will share more information about our software and services for individuals spanning the PC, phone, and web, and go into detail on Microsoft account, cloud services, SkyDrive, Hotmail, Messenger, as well as our upcoming work with Skype.  For now you can start using our apps and services on Windows 8 Consumer Preview, your Windows Phone, on the web with Hotmail or SkyDrive, or on your other devices.

--Chris Jones