Windows Live Essentials 2011 Beta Refresh Now Available (Updated)

Microsoft on Tuesday issued a "beta refresh" of its upcoming Windows Live Essentials 2011 applications suite for Windows Vista and 7. (See my review for more information about Windows Live Essentials 2011; I'll be updating the review with information about new features later today.) Here's what's new:

UPDATED: I've added a few new items below. This should be just about all the new features in this release.

Windows Live Startup. The new install experience lets you choose between a default install (all client solutions) or a custom install, where you can pick and choose. You can also change the language at install time.

Bug fixes and performance improvements. All of the applications in Windows Live Essentials 2011 have received the expected tweaks. There is new "2011" branding on some of the apps.

Messenger. You can now chat with your Facebook friends in real time using Windows Live Messenger, further enhancing the one-time IM app's social connection capabilities.

Mail. The big improvement in this release, curiously, is Gmail related: Mail now "understands" the default Gmail "folder" organizational structure and provides quick access to other Gmail folders, like Sent, Drafts, Spam, and Trash. Photo Mails that utilize SkyDrive for storage can now be configured not to expire. Content pasted in from Word and other Office applications can now retain its original formatting as well.

Photo Gallery: Microsoft's photo management solution will now recognized geo-tagged photos and give you the option to display the location the shot was taken in Bing Maps (on the web). I recently purchased a GPS-enabled camera for my current trip to Germany, so here's what the Bing Maps integration looks like (it's not nearly as seamless as in Google Picasa):

Photo Gallery also gets a "refresh" of the facial recognition functionality that debuted in previous betas, making it more accurate and reliable. It also makes suggestions based on previous tags and uses logic to deduce who is in the picture to for more intuitive tagging in the future. The Find gallery--which appears when you search for photos in your collection--now features live previews on hover and support for multiple filters.

Movie Maker.  There are a few new features here, including a Snapshot toolbar button for creating a screenshot of a particular video frame, and an enhanced video scrubbing. You can also upload VGA (640 x 480) video to SkyDrive, and, for the first time, upload video to Flickr.

Writer. Microsoft's excellent blog editor gets a small update related to recent posts and drafts, where the most recent of each are available in-line in the File menu and via Writer's Jump List, and better spell checking. And as with Mail, Writer can import Office-based content without losing formatting.

Family Safety picks up improved Alerts management and Activity reporting.

Outlook Connector is renamed to Outlook Connector Pack for some reason and has a streamlined new Hotmail Settings interface.

More features are on the way. Despite the fact that the final release of Windows Live Essentials 2011 is only "a few months away," Microsoft plans to add a few more new features by then. No word yet on whether those features will necessitate another public beta (or RC) release.

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