What’s the Future of Windows Essentials?

What's the Future of Windows Essentials?

For the past several versions of Windows, I’ve recommended Windows Essentials as an obvious way to “complete” the Windows experience with several important utilities. It’s still available, but this package of desktop apps hasn’t been updated in years. And the universal apps that Microsoft bundles with Windows 10 simply aren’t up to the task.

To answer my own semi-rhetorical question/headline, my understanding is that Windows Essentials has in fact been end-of-life’d, and that Microsoft has no intention of upgrading or updating it. And that’s … that’s not good.

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Windows Essentials, available from get.live.com, bundles a number of useful desktop apps together. These include:

Photo Gallery. This provides photo editing, organization and sharing, but the reason I still use it is that it provides the best experience for photo acquisition; that is, copying or moving photos from a phone or camera to your PC.

Movie Maker. A surprisingly decent video editor.

Live Writer. A blog editor that works with a now somewhat-dated list of blog services. (An open source version is now available separately from this suite.)

OneDrive. The desktop client for Microsoft’s cloud storage service. This is now built into Windows 10.

Windows Live Messenger. The now-defunct instant messaging application. It’s been replaced by Skype.

The history of Windows Essentials is kind of interesting, and speaks to Microsoft’s ever-changing strategy with Windows. The firm has gone back and forth deciding whether Windows should satisfy every need or be stripped down to its bare essentials. With the former approach, Windows is better aligned with the Mac, but with the latter, Windows was easier to service because Microsoft reduced the footprint of the OS. Windows Vista, for example, was a kitchen-sink approach, while Windows 7—the apex for Windows Essentials—was stripped down.

But Windows Essentials has been in a holding pattern since the release of Windows 8. At a high level, you may argue that Windows 8 was a kitchen-sink release, since it came with (basic) built-in apps for all kinds of things. But Windows 8, like Windows 10 now, changes the servicing picture: By using the mobile app model, Microsoft can have a stripped-down OS that is still bursting with app-based functionality. Because now the apps can be serviced (e.g. updated) separately from the OS, in this case using the Windows Store.

But that, of course, is what spelled doom for Windows Essentials. Well, that and the move away from desktop apps: Windows 8 and now Windows 10 offer more modern app platforms, and the built-in apps in Windows 10 are universal apps, not desktop apps.

The problem is that these apps—at least the ones that relate directly to the Windows Essentials apps—are pretty horrible. Photos is perhaps the worst one of all, and it’s photo acquisition capabilities (via the Import toolbar button) are notably bad: You can’t rename the items as they’re imported, for example, or organize them based on date, event, or other criteria.

Windows 10 doesn’t include a video editor, though Microsoft provides a freebie called Movie Moments that is notably limited (and nothing like Movie Maker). The horrible Skype apps in Windows 10—Phone, Skype Video, and Messaging—are best replaced by the Skype desktop application.

Since there is no acceptable universal app replacement for Photo Gallery or Movie Maker, I’d like to see Microsoft at least invest an iota of effort into creating such apps for Windows 10. (Or in the case of Photos, improving the current app.) So I’ll continue to use the out-of-date Windows Essentials apps—actually, I do only install Photo Gallery and Movie Maker now—until then, or until they simply stop working.

Windows Essentials was a great idea. It still is.


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