5 things you’re going to like about Wave 4 (and 3 whiny complaints)

4341.betadownloadlogo_04ceda17 News If all goes according to plan, in a few hours you’ll be able to download Windows Live Essentials “Wave 4” beta, and get your hands on the first new major release for Windows Live in over a year.  In fact, the first beta of Windows Live Wave 3 was in November of 2008, making it close to two years since we’ve seen major new Windows Live bits (Movie Maker doesn’t count, sorry Mike Torres).  Of course if you’ve been following us here on LiveSide.net, you know quite a bit about the new release already – our first post on Wave 4 was back on July 23rd, 2009 (when we were already asking “where’s Wave 4?”!!!).  Since then we’ve posted over 100 posts tagged Wave 4.

But as you well know, reading about new bits just isn’t the same as using them, and we can’t wait for you to *finally* be able to get your hands on Wave 4.  While we wish we could say we’ve had access forever, that’s not true, but we have been able to play with the new Essentials for the past week or so.  You’ve already read about the big changes, from the end of Live Mesh, replaced by the new Live Sync, the advent of the Ribbon Era of Windows Live, some cool new toys in Photo Gallery, to a new Messenger with new toys of its own, but we wanted to spend a bit of time while we wait with you for the new bits (hey, it’s in our blood!) on some changes that may not be front page news, but are pretty cool anyway.

At LiveSide, we live in Messenger, so the first three “likes” are from our favorite IM client:

Tabs in Messenger
OK so these have been a loonng time coming, and yes lots of other IM clients have had them for years, but tabbed conversations just make sooo much sense:

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There are some little nuances, like the way the Conversation Box “nudges” when a new conversation is started, that make us feel like a lot of heart and soul went into tabs, but mainly they “just work” and you’ll soon wonder why you put up with Messenger conversations any other way.

Facebook integration 
Another new feature that “just works”, if you have Facebook friends you want to chat with, you no longer have to log on to FB and that annoyingly bad chat interface.  Your FB friends are integrated seamlessly into Messenger, and again, you’ll wonder how you did without it.

Photo Sharing
Maybe it’s not so much that photo sharing in Wave 4 is great (even though it is), but photo sharing in Wave 3 was just awful.  We share a lot of screenshots (go figure), and most of the time we had to download the images and open them in WL Photo Gallery or Photoshop just to see them clearly.

No more.  Images shared via Messenger are crisp and clean, and the images in the Messenger “Full View”, or “Social Dashboard” (what used to be Messenger Today), just jump off the page.  Really really nice, and screenshots don’t do the images justice, as there are built in features such as auto pan and zoom for motion effects, and slide shows for multiple pictures that a screenshot can’t capture:

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It makes us want to check out “Full View” every once in a while just for the photo quality alone.

People Tags in Windows Live Photo Gallery
Everything we’re hearing about People Tags is very very positive.  If you have lots of photos of people, you’re going to love this feature. And when you need it, Photo Fuse, another new feature in Photo Gallery coming out of Microsoft Research, well, you’ll love it too.  We’re just not sure how often you will run into the problem Photo Fuse solves, but hey, the right tool for the job and all that, and it is pretty cool technology.

Auto Fill for links in Live Writer
Here’s a little feature that only saves a couple of clicks, yet every time we use it we’re pleasantly surprised:

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When you copy a link into the clipboard, and then select text to add a hyperlink, the link is auto populated into the Web address bar in the dialog box.  To be honest it took a while not to instinctively go to manually fill in the box anyway (we’ve probably used the tool thousands of times with WLWriter Wave 3), but that “hey, it’s already there!” moment never fails to bring us a tiny bit of joy.

But it’s not all roses in Wave 4, and there are a few things that just, well, annoy us.  Here’s 3:

The disappearing scroll bar in Messenger
When you hover off of the scroll bar in a Messenger conversation, the scroll bar auto hides itself.  Drives us crazy.  We’re constantly scrolling up in conversations to grab a link or check a snippet of conversation, and if we forget to scroll back down there’s simply no indication of where you are.  Make it stop, please!

Live Mail Messages view
What happened here?  For whatever reason (too many meetings, we bet), somebody decided to mess with the messages view in Live Mail:

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You can’t change the font, the From field is at the bottom, and the Subject field is at the top, in a font too big to fit in any reasonable sizing of the column, with the date field taking up far too much room (we know what millennium it is, thanks).  Grrr.  For comparison, this is how a message list should look, courtesy Windows Live Hotmail Wave 4:

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OK so we still want to be able to adjust even this, but the message pane in Windows Live Mail Wave 4 is so bothersome that we’re semi-seriously considering using Hotmail instead, or even (shudder) Outlook.

Windows Live Profile backgrounds
OK so this isn’t even Essentials, but hey we’re on a roll now.  So Wave 4 gives you some backgrounds to choose from, which spiffily change when you hover over the choices:

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But where are the choices for, you know, ADULTS?  What is with all the cartoon characters?  No animals, no sunsets, no cool Bing photos of the day?  Really, this is all we get?  Sheesh.

And with that, let the F5-ing begin, good luck (we mean it) with your download experience, and let us know what your favorite features (and your least) are in Wave 4.  You’ve waited a long time for this, enjoy!