One of the centre pieces for the new Windows Live Wave 3 experience services (MS marketing speak is infectious), is the new customisable homepage at http://home.live.com. While the first version of this launched with Wave 2 was somewhat basic, the new super-charged version is a big improvement. Damaster already covered some of the basics when it was available a few weeks back, so lets get started.
– Date & Weather, based on the user’s own location as set by their profile
– Current notifications, showing private messages, network invites, and upcoming calendar events from WL Calendar
– Photo slideshow, allowing the user to customise their homepage with personal photos hosted on Skydrive/Windows Live Photos. While the page only shows 4 photos at a time, it continuously cycles through all the photos you’ve selected
– The new themes for the Windows Live headers (more details).
Next up on the page is the main column, showing a preview of your inbox showing the most recent emails you’ve received as well as the What’s New feed. This includes updates from all your contacts, including changes on Windows Live such as what networks they’ve joined and photos they’ve uploaded. However using the new web activities that are available to add to your Windows Live Profile, the homepage also provides a view into your contacts other online updates outside of Windows Live, such as Flickr photos uploaded.
The right hand side column provides a summary about your own online status, showing Messenger presence and providing shortcuts to other key Windows Live services. It also provides links to Office Live if you use that. Underneath this is a mini my.live.com, bringing you the customised news you care about from across the web via RSS. While you can’t remove the default partner feeds such as MSN and FoxSports, you can add your own headlines. Given LiveSide is in the default feed list, we’re not going to say anything bad about this feature :P
Just as with Facebook’s news feed, you can customise the updates your receive from your contacts, both from Windows Live, and from the web activities. Thankfully I can cut out Kris Hoet’s twitter spamming (just kidding Kris). The same options page also directs you to setting up your own permissions, For those of you who read RSS feeds via the desktop/elsewhere on the web, there is an RSS feed available for the What’s New Feed. So you don’t even have to leave the Windows Live Mail application now ;)
Overall the homepage is a massive improvement on the last version (not hard) and given the right promotion will become a key part of Windows Live. The differentiator from other social networks is that the web applications are limited to Microsoft partners, so you won’t be spammed by Vampires or Pirates in the What’s New Feed. These partnerships also allows Windows Live to provide much richer content from each of the web applications on offer, such as Twitter replies, or WordPress comments.
At the end of the day however, social networks are driven by a critical mass and there’s no compelling reason for users of other social networks to switch to Windows Live, even if they do use Messenger or Hotmail at the moment. For those who don’t have an allegiance to any other social network, this is a great place to start.