Microsoft this week introduced enhancements to its Windows Live portal, the entry point for users to access its web-based services.
New features include a 'gadget' that recommends television programmes and the integration of images into Live.com RSS feeds, according to several bloggers who were present when Microsoft introduced them at its Search Champs event. Microsoft uses the term 'gadget' to refer to mini-applications, usually appearing as a small screen, that are available on a desktop or web page and provide a shortcut to useful information or some other user enhancement to an application or service.
Microsoft also plans to unveil an update to Windows XP that will allow gadgets to be dragged and dropped between Live.com and the Windows desktop, bloggers wrote. This feature will also be available in Windows Vista, which is expected to ship by the end of the year.
Search Champs, held in Washington, is in its third year as an event to solicit feedback from industry experts and pundits on some of Microsoft's newest technology. While most of the meeting is restricted by non-disclosure agreements, the introduction of the new Windows Live features was not.
Bloggers discussed the enhancements on postings to Microsoft-watcher blogs such as Read/WriteWeb, by New Zealand-based industry analyst Richard MacManus; Techcrunch, by former technology lawyer and prominent internet critic Michael Arrington; and InsideMicrosoft, by journalist and editor Nathan Weinberg.
On his blog, MacManus wrote that Microsoft reiterated its strategy to make Windows Live something like an OS for the web, in the way that Windows software currently runs a PC.
"The themes of Live.com being a 'desktop on the web' and making the web feel like a desktop app were hammered home again," he wrote.
A spokeswoman for Microsoft's MSN division at the Waggener Edstrom public relations firm said the software giant would not comment further on the Windows Live enhancements. However, she did not deny that the information on the blogs is accurate. MSN oversees Microsoft's Live.com and related Live-branded services.
According to the bloggers, Microsoft expected Live.com to show images on Thursday with links to RSS feed information on a user's Live.com home page. At the time this story was written, however, the integration of images was not yet available on the site.
Once they are, users will see images accompanying links from the feeds they have chosen to have displayed as content on the site, according to MacManus. This will make "the bland home page a little more colourful", he wrote.
Yahoo and Google also offer customised home pages where users can choose which content to display, as well as which services they would like to access from the page.
Microsoft's new gadget for TV recommendations is expected to be available in the future, but the company did not specify when that would be other than "soon", according to bloggers. MacManus wrote that the gadget communicates with a PC running Windows Media Center to program TV shows for recording, and also has a ratings system to see how other users have rated shows.
Microsoft has an entire website devoted to gadgets that can be integrated into Live.com and expects to make more available as it continues to expand its Live services.