Kara Swisher

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Microsoft Officially Facebooks, Oops, Socializes, Windows Live Internet Services

Microsoft officially rolled out the next version of its Windows Live Services tonight, with a heavy emphasis on socializing its online offerings and giving users better tools to share all sorts of information from across the Web within them.

Microsoft (MSFT) said the changes–similar to those made by Yahoo (YHOO) and Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL recently–would “begin rolling out to customers in the U.S. over the coming weeks and will be made available globally in 54 countries and in 48 languages by early 2009.”

You might call its the “Facebooking” of Windows Live, which is the brand name for Microsoft’s communications and other related online services aimed at consumers, especially because the much anticipated changes also include a new profile and a “What’s New” feed.

So, if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should feel beloved by Microsoft, since both are direct borrows of two of the social-networking site’s most prominent features.

(See many screenshots of the newly refreshed Window Live services below.)

But don’t call it a social network, said Brian Hall, who is the general manager of the Windows Live unit, in a lovely breakfast interview with BoomTown yesterday.

“No one wants to sign up for another social network,” said Hall. “But everyone does want to be able to share and bring together all they do on the Web, and we want to make sure all our users can do that in the easiest way possible.”

(Sadly, the video I did with Hall–who is Seth Rogen lookalike, and I mean that in a good way–got eaten up in my new Flip MinoHD software, which was entirely due to my boneheadedness.)

But, in it, Hall underscored that Microsoft is now fully committed to opening Windows Live Services up to whatever consumers want to do with their online lives and wherever they want to do it.

And, indeed, the “next generation” of Windows Live will inject social elements into its Photo Gallery photo sharing, Hotmail email, Spaces groups and Messenger instant messaging offerings, as well as Microsoft’s calendar and mobile products.

The move will also more significantly integrate many third-party partners into the mix. Microsoft’s outside partners announced tonight include Flickr, LinkedIn, Pandora, Photobucket, Twitter, WordPress and Yelp. (See the full list below.)

Microsoft also announced alliances with Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and China Telecom to deliver Windows Live services.

Microsoft says there are more than 460 million Windows Live customers (its instant messaging offering accounts for a bulk of this number and will see the most socializing impact), but is bowing to the obvious and inevitable trend of consumers creating and sharing all over the Internet.

But, said Hall, Microsoft is also sticking to its mantra of “software plus services” here, noting that consumers want the existing tools they use now regularly to become more social, rather than having to abandon them.

Microsoft is also launching its Windows Live Essentials, which are free widgets that can be used across a range of devices and places, such as personal computers, mobile phones and on Web sites.

Finally, to let users store all that content and information, Microsoft said it is also increasing its Windows Live SkyDrive online storage offering from 5GB to 25GB.

Here are the screenshots of the new Windows Live services (click on them to make them larger):

Windows Live Home Page

Windows Live Profile Page

Windows Live Messenger Page

Windows Live Web Activities Page

Windows Live Groups Page

Partner Integration for Windows Live

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work