Over the last few months, we’ve focused this blog on our current software and services – how we build them and how they're used around the world. We’ve also talked about trends we’ve observed both in the use of our services and in our research with customers. Today marks the point where we shift the focus of our blog from our current services to our next major release – known internally as “Wave 4.”

For several months now, we’ve had several thousand people running regular builds of this code inside Microsoft, and we’ll shortly begin expanding this testing to some folks outside Microsoft for additional feedback.

We will then roll out updates to our web services, followed by betas of our software for Windows PCs, Macs, and phones. Our approach is to release betas to the public once we think the build is in pretty good shape, learn through beta usage data and beta user feedback, and make additional refinements that eventually become the final release. Of course, we’ll continue to update the service as we see how you use it every day and hear from you about what’s working and what needs improvement.

As promised, in this blog we want to talk more about our thinking and focus as we've designed this next wave of Windows Live. While there’s a ton of great stuff to come, you’re going to hear us really focus on three key areas – Messenger, Hotmail, and Windows Live Essentials — especially how the Essentials suite completes your Windows PC experience and connects your PC to the services you use every day.

Messenger –staying in touch with the people who matter most

In the not-so-distant past, your friends were mostly on one IM network, mostly on a PC, and it was easy to keep track of what they were doing. Today’s instant messaging is still mostly about people who are online on a PC having a conversation with each other. In Messenger, these conversations occur between more than 320 million users who exchange more than 10 billion daily messages with their real friends.

But in the last several years, conversations have shifted beyond IM sessions, to activity on social networks, sharing in email, and SMS messages.

People have hundreds of “friends” across numerous social networks and sharing sites, but most people still spend most of their time communicating with a core group of people. To stay up to date with these "real friends" you have to go from site to site and wade through long lists of posts. And really, most people don’t need another social network – the one they have is just fine.

Messenger will always be great for IM, and we’ll do more to make those conversations even richer. But Messenger is evolving into a companion for your social networks, so you can stay in touch more easily with your closest friends across the many services you and they use. As we broaden Messenger's reach, we remain committed to ensuring that you’re in control of your privacy. From simple defaults that keep your private life private, to powerful controls customizing how you share.

Hotmail – the most efficient email service for busy people

Much like instant messaging, email has changed over the last several years. In the “old days” of email, you would only get mail from a real person, someone who knew your email address, and email was mostly text. Email today is a lot more than plain text – it is the way we get things done. It's where we conduct business, keep up with social networking updates, and share photos, documents and links with friends and co-workers. Similarly, your “contact list” isn’t just people you send email to anymore – it is a long list of people you communicate with in the social networks you use every day.

In past blog posts, we’ve talked a lot about how consumers are increasingly busy, and how Hotmail builds tools to save time for over 350M+ active users. We’ll focus our improvements in Hotmail on helping all those busy people get more done in email, in the most efficient way possible. This means helping you quickly see the mail that matters most, and letting you easily sweep away mail that you don’t want. We’ll also make it simpler and easier to share through email, whether you're sharing and editing Office documents with co-workers, or sharing vacation photos with friends and family.

Windows Live Essentials – completing the Windows experience on your PC

PCs running Windows continue to be the most popular way to connect to the internet. And, just as email and instant messaging have changed, the way people use their PCs has changed too. These days, folks use their PCs to communicate on social networks, send email, browse the web, and share photos and videos with their friends. Most people have a mobile phone, and many have an additional PC. And most people already have at least one social network (often more), a photo sharing service, and an email address.

Wave 4 of Windows Live Essentials includes the best tools to organize photos, make movies, and keep in touch with your closest friends, all designed for the power of the Windows 7 PC. We’ll focus on connecting your PC to your social networks, your photo sharing services, your phone, and your other PCs – and help you keep things in sync across all the devices you use.

Any time, any device, securely and safely

We’ve designed Messenger, Hotmail, and Essentials to work across the devices you use every day – the PC, the phone, and the browser. We’ll continue to focus deeply on security and privacy, so you get notified about suspicious or unusual activity, you get extra security on your PC, and you stay in control of how your data is shared with others.

In our upcoming posts we’ll go into depth on Messenger, Hotmail, and Essentials – and provide more information about the new features we’ve built and why we’ve built them. We’re excited about what’s coming next and we hope you enjoy the release as much as we’ve enjoyed building it. Stay tuned.

- Chris

Chris Jones is Corporate Vice President of Windows Live.