After writing about the Hotmail connector for Outlook, I decided to write about the Windows Live Beta offerings on a feature basis. Today is the first part of a multi-part series showcasing Windows Live and how the new collaboration enhancements can help you work and play better. We begin with a topic that I HATE with a passion...toolbars.
I hate toolbars because every web company on the planet has abused the concept. In theory, a toolbar assists users in simplifying common tasks on the web via simple buttons on the browser. Reality is much different. Many toolbars are bloatware that not only slow down your browsing but also your entire machine. Some toolbars are even borderline spyware that secretly send out searching habits and information back to the carriers. The most annoying aspect of the current "toolbar culture," is the habit of companies bundling toolbars with every little piece of software out there--Google, Yahoo, MSN, all are guilty to a degree. *drum roll*
Call me a "John Kerry," 'cause I just flip-flopped. About two weeks ago I decided support the company I work for and "try" the Live Toolbar. I installed it knowing full well that it was probably junk, after all, I could keyboard shortcut, type, and browse my way faster than the time it took to locate a button on the damn thing. This why the I was shockingly surprised at how elegant the Live Toolbar looked after the install.
It wasn't cluttered, the mouse hover descriptions elaborated on the features well and for the most part it added just enough value to my browsing experience to be useful day in and day out. A really cool feature that was missing from Live.com searches was the highlighted viewings for cached pages. Live toolbar goes one step farther with the "Highlight Viewer" that allows you the scan the entire page via a thumbnail. Just type in your search terms in the toolbar search box and click on the "highlight" button. This works on any page!
Another nice feature was the ability to blog about something using the "Blog It" button. Simple linking into Live Writer allows me a way to start multiple drafts to finish at a later time. Teamed with Live Writer, I always have a handful of stories to write about.
Shifting gears, a big negative in the toolbar was the "Maps" button which I could not get to work properly. Maybe because I had Google Toolbar installed, for testing, there was a conflict, though Google's "Auto-Link" feature, which does the same thing, worked 90% of the time. It also could have been my IE7 Skype plug-in that changes phone numbers into dialing links. Further testing is definitely required.
The one killer feature that is in the toolbar is "Favorites." This feature saved my life when it came to my bookmarks. What had happened was I formatted my work machine because I was re-purposing the unit. I had forgotten to backup my bookmarks and cursed myself wishing I was better at using Del.icio.us. To my surprise, when I reloaded Live Toolbar on my new image and signed in using my Hotmail account, all of my bookmarks synchronized with Live! The day was saved!
The Live Toolbar has given me my time back and a reason to like IE, I'm indifferent and prefer Safari. The toolbar has also been extremely stable operating without any delays or slowdowns. If you are a Hotmail user, this is an absolute must! Also in complete fairness, Google makes a nice toolbar as well, the some the quirky UI elements bug me. Both are very stable and useful. Yahoo, don't bother, it's to Yahoo-centric and distracting. Overall, hats off to the Live Toolbar team!