Windows Live Services That Make Windows Better

Microsoft promotes its Windows Live offerings specifically as value-added services that enhance your Windows 7 experience with free, familiar, and secure ways to connect and share with others. Marketing baloney aside, there's some truth to this, though Microsoft's lengthy list of available Windows Live products and services—not to mention the products and services that fall under other Live services product families—makes it hard to keep them all straight.

In this section, we focus on a hand-picked list of Windows Live products and services that we believe truly do make Windows 7 better. You're free to pick and choose among them, of course, with one exception: Windows Live ID, which we discuss first, is the "glue" that binds together all of Microsoft's Live products and services, both to each other and, in Windows 7, to the PC desktop as well.

Why you want it: It's needed to access many other Windows Live products and services.

Type: Online service.

Though Microsoft doesn't explicitly market Windows Live ID, this important service sits at the middle of all of the company's Live products and services—including, yes, its Xbox Live and Zune Marketplace/Zune Social services. That's because Windows Live ID is Microsoft's central single sign-on service, and any Microsoft online product or service that requires a logon of some kind requires a Windows Live ID.

While the name Windows Live ID is unusual, you may be more familiar with the service's previous name, Passport. Microsoft dropped the name Passport when it changed to the Live branding it's now using, but the purpose is still the same. So, too, is the way in which you acquire a Windows Live ID: typically by signing up for a Microsoft online service, such as Hotmail or Windows Live Messenger, which requires a logon. However, you don't have to do it that way. In fact, if you know you're going to be interacting with various Windows Live (and other Microsoft Live) services going forward, you can simply sign up for a Windows Live ID first. Here's how you do it.

Simply navigate to with Internet Explorer and click the Sign up button. Yes, you're free to use the browser of your choice, but we've found that Microsoft's online services still work best with the company's own browser, so it's best to step through the original sign-up process with IE instead of Firefox or whatever other browser you may use. You can use another browser to access the service after you're signed up.

Your Windows Live ID will be an e-mail address of some kind. Note that you are free to use an existing (non-Microsoft Live) e-mail address as your Windows Live ID (like [email protected], or you can create a new Windows Live ID using one of Microsoft's domains (typically or in the U.S., but you may see different domains offered in other locales).

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