Facebook Face-off? Microsoft Beefs Up Windows Live Online Services

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The move may bring Windows Live into closer competition with Facebook -- ironic, given that Microsoft invested $240 million in the popular online service last year.

Microsoft said Windows Live has more than 460 million users.

With the enhanced Windows Live, users will be able to add third-party sites like LinkedIn, Flickr, Photobucket and Twitter to their profiles through a new "What's New" feed. As Windows Live users update their profiles, share photos and write reviews through those Web sites, those activities will automatically publish to their Windows Live network, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is also upgrading the messaging and e-mail services in Windows Live. Windows Live Messenger will offer more personalization capabilities, drag-and-drop photo sharing, a favorites list for the most important contacts, group IM for chatting with up to 20 people simultaneously, and updates from contacts through the What's New feed.

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Windows Live Hotmail, which has 375 million active customers, will be faster and offer spam filtering that is 80 percent more effective, according to Microsoft. The system will allow users to bring multiple e-mail accounts together and put multiple e-mail addresses onto one device.

Windows Live will be accessible from almost any device through the Windows Live SkyDrive service, Microsoft said, and the amount of online data storage provided by the service is being increased from 5 gigabytes to 25 gigabytes.

Microsoft said it would begin rolling out the improved Windows Live to customers in the U.S. "over the coming weeks and globally in 54 countries by early next year."