Testing of Windows Live services continues

Microsoft expects to release new test versions of several Windows Live hosted services in the next several weeks.

Microsoft this week plans to release several new test versions of Windows Live hosted services, with two of the offerings -- Windows Live Expo and Windows Live Local.

Windows Live Expo is an online classified service Microsoft plans to launch in the U.S., the company said. In additional to traditional classified ads -- such as listings of items for sale or apartments for rent -- the service also will provide social networking and community features.

Once Windows Live Expo is available, users can access the service from other Windows Live services, including MSN Messenger, Windows Live Local, Windows Live Search, Windows Live Spaces, MSN.com and Live.com, Microsoft said. However, users can access the beta of the service that will be released only through MSN Messenger and Windows Live Local.

The new test version of Windows Live Local, a local search and mapping service already in beta, will include a new viewing feature called "street side," Microsoft said. Street side offers images in a split-screen navigation window. In the upper pane, Windows Live Local users can view street-level images of destinations, while in the lower pane, they can navigate using three view categories -- race car, sports car and walk -- to travel through their local destinations.

The Windows Live Local version available Tuesday will feature street-side viewing for two U.S. cities, Seattle and San Francisco, with more cities to be added over time, Microsoft said. The service already includes a map view, an aerial satellite view and a bird's-eye view that is similar to the satellite view but offers images at a 45-degree angle instead of from directly overhead.

Two other new test versions for Windows Live services -- Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta -- will be available in March, the company said.

Windows Live Mail, already in beta, is expected to go live on Friday to a wider audience with new features added at the request of customers, Microsoft said. Those features are the ability to view Windows Live Mail with a Hotmail user interface, and the ability to personalize the service by applying color themes to the user interface. Windows Live Mail eventually will replace MSN Hotmail, an e-mail hosted service Microsoft currently offers.

Microsoft will release the first beta for another service, Windows Live Mail Desktop, in mid-March, the company said. The service is an e-mail client that is similar to Microsoft's Outlook Express offering and can work in conjunction with Windows Live Mail and other services. Windows Live Mail Desktop will make offline mail, account aggregation and other services available for free to Windows Live Mail users, Microsoft said.

Microsoft introduced its plan to offer hosted services under the Windows Live moniker last fall. A beta version of Microsoft Office Live -- a hosted service offering small businesses Web-site hosting, e-mail, CRM (customer relationship management) and business intelligence -- also is available now.

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