Microsoft is updating and integrating all of its “Windows Live” services. The results are overwhelming and quirky but the changes  include some things that are even attractive for cranky old folks like me that have no idea what to do with a “social network.” (I’m not sure but I think it requires friends, so I have no reason to go there.) In particular, Windows Live Skydrive is getting some exciting new features but there is still some confusing overlap in Microsoft’s services for storing and sharing files online.

The updates are a bit of a blur, really – it will mostly be people under 25, I think, that have a lot of names in Windows Live People and sort them into Windows Live Groups so it’s easier to send them invitations to Windows Live Events that are tracked on Windows Live Calendar, with RSVPs sent using Windows Live Messenger and photos shared afterward on Windows Live Photos. Honest, those are all names of interlocking pieces of this big social network, which is all free and all tied together, and that’s just the half of it – there are pieces that will run on mobile phones and pieces that will interact with other online social networking sites and a toolbar for Internet Explorer and a piece that will deliver pictures straight from your cell phone to a digital picture frame (honest!) and on and on. Here’s an article about the upcoming new releases, and here’s a press release that runs through most of the highlights.

Let’s focus on Windows Live Skydrive, a free place where you can store files online that can be accessed from anywhere. You’re required to have a free Windows Live ID to get started but that’s nothing new – all these services are built around your Windows Live ID. You can have private folders on Skydrive, or you can share folders with specific people, or you can have folders that are open to anyone. Skydrive is one of the services that I strongly recommend you become familiar with! It will quickly become a tool that you use routinely.

When Skydrive is updated, everyone will be able to store up to 25Gb of files online, up from the current limit of 5Gb. That’s a lot of space! There are big improvements to the way photos can be stored and shared, with bigger thumbnails and instant slideshows and tighter integration with Windows Live Photo Gallery. Right now it’s clumsy to move files around on Skydrive; the update will make it possible to move and copy files between Skydrive folders.

And in one welcome improvement, apparently it will be possible to share files with people even if they do not have a Windows Live ID. That’s been a stumbling block, since many people aren’t ready to figure out the Windows Live ID concept.

One change to Windows Live Skydrive leaps out at me from this screenshot of the update – Microsoft has decided to put really big advertisements on the web pages for some of these services. Oh joy!

SkyDrive

Now for the confusing part. Look at this list of Microsoft services.

  • Windows Live Skydrive lets you store files online and share them with others.
  • Windows Live Sync will be the new name of Foldershare, which syncs folders among several computers, either your own or shared with others.
  • Live Mesh lets you store files online, share them with others, and sync folders among several computers, either your own or shared with others.
  • Office Live Workspace lets you store files online, share them with others, and open them directly into Microsoft Office programs.

The overhaul of the Windows Live services announced yesterday does nothing to simplify that lineup. If Live Mesh lives up to its potential, it can absorb and duplicate all of the other services; perhaps that’s the ultimate goal and the other services are only temporary, since it will take several years to build out Live Mesh and the framework it rests on.

While we wait, go start using Skydrive and Live Mesh. They’re worth knowing about!