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What is Windows Live?

Question: I see “Windows Live” everywhere, but I can’t decide if it’s a program or a website or something else. From what I can tell, Windows Live has almost nothing to do with Windows. I’m confused. What is Windows Live all about?

I’m actually somewhat surprised that this is a common question, but on reflection, it actually makes sense.

I’ve long held that Microsoft doesn’t do product names well. It’s not that the names are bad – it’s just that they’re often chosen without regard to just how confusing they are or may easily become.

Windows Live is just one such example.

It’s not a product at all, it’s a “brand”.

And yes, it didn’t really occur to me until just now, but very technically,
Windows Live actually has little to do with Windows.


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The easiest way to understand what Windows Live means as a brand is to perhaps compare it to something that we’re familiar with: the automotive industry. Let’s take Windows Live Hotmail and the Chevrolet Camaro:

  • Microsoft is somewhat like General Motors
  • Hotmail, a specific product, could then be compared to the Camaro, a specific model of car.

The net result in this comparison is that “Windows Live” is kinda, sorta like “Chevrolet” – a brand associated with a family of products.

Just like the Chevrolet brand includes vehicles like Camaros, Corvettes, Suburbans and more, the Windows Live brand also includes:

  • Windows Live Hotmail
  • Windows Live Messenger
  • Windows Live Photos
  • Windows Live Groups
  • Your custom MSN home page
  • and probably a lot more…

You get the idea … a bunch of online products and services that may or may not be related to each other under the “Windows Live” brand.

Confusion #1: What was your name again?

Windows Live is a comparatively new brand, in that many of the products within it pre-date it.

There was another brand: MSN, or the MicroSoft Network.

Windows Live Hotmail used to be MSN Hotmail, and before that, plain old Hotmail (or more correctly, HoTMaiL – with the HTML in caps).

Windows Live Messenger used to be MSN Messenger (which many people seemed to refer to as simply MSN, which was always wrong – like Windows Live, MSN was a brand encompassing many different products.).

So not only might the brand be confusing, the brand has also changed over time. Depending on what product you’ve been using and for how long, you might have seen it change several times.

But the products within, aside from functional changes and evolution over time, are still the same – Hotmail is still Hotmail.

Confusion #2: It’s a dessert topping and a floor wax!

All of this might start to make sense as Windows Live being a brand for Microsoft’s various online offerings.

But then we throw a monkey wrench into the mix: Windows Live Mail.

Unlike all of the other Windows Live offerings, which are primarily online websites that you visit in order to use them, Windows Live Mail is a more traditional email program that you download to your PC. It’s positioned as Microsoft’s replacement for Outlook Express, although it’s definitely a major change from that old workhorse.

And don’t confuse Windows Live Mail with Windows Live Hotmail … the first is a downloadable email program for your Windows-based PC, the other is a web-based mail service available via any web browser. You can access one from the other, but that’s about as related as they get – they are not the same thing.

So Windows Live can refer to online services as well as, perhaps, a few downloadable PC programs. It feels somewhat like Chevrolet building bicycles in addition to automobiles.

Confusion #3: One login to rule them all

Let’s face it, you probably don’t care about this thing called “Windows Live”. What you probably really want is Hotmail or Messenger or whatever service that you’ve decided to use that happens to live under the Windows Live brand.

So you create a Hotmail account – or so you believe.

The problem is that technically you didn’t create a Hotmail account at all – you’ve created a Windows Live account. That account happens to use your Windows Live Hotmail email address to identify you, and it’s what you use to login when you access Windows Live Hotmail, but it’s much, much more than that.

That single Windows Live account that you’ve created to gain access to Windows Live Hotmail also means that you have a Windows Live Messenger account, access to SkyDrive, Photo Gallery, Mesh and more. Lots more.

More that, if you’re like most people, you had no idea that you were signing up for.

It’s not a bad thing – in fact, it’s quite convenient – it’s simply under-advertised.

And if you do end up using those additional services, there’s no way to close or access them separately. If you lose access to your Windows Live Hotmail, perhaps due to being hacked for example, you’ve lost access to all of the Windows Live online services associated with it.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly the time that many people first learn what “Windows Live” really means.

I’m not saying don’t use it, but I am saying use it wisely. If nothing else, realize the totality of what you have, and (of course) backup your data regularly in case the worse happens.

Confusion #4: Where’s the Windows in Windows Live?

Finally, if you pay attention to the various online offerings under the Windows Live brand, you’ll find something missing.


Most of the online services are quite accessible to anyone on any operating system with a sufficiently capable browser.

Yes, Windows Live Essentials does include several Windows-only programs that can enhance the Windows Live experience – like Windows Live Mail discussed above – and a few that do require Windows, like Windows Live Mesh – but for the most part, Windows Live is fairly platform independent brand.

So why Windows?

In my opinion, brand recognition. The term “Windows” is up there with “Coke” or “Chevrolet” as a quickly recognized brand.

And that’s really what this “Windows Live” thing is all about: marketing, branding, and brand recognition.

Even if all that it really does is add to the confusion.

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20 comments on “What is Windows Live?”

  1. Windows “Live” is just like FACEBOOK. Taking on too much has caused gigantic errors.
    Calling it “confusing” is a compliment.
    I was a customer of Hotmail for more than 10 years. I was happy with Hotmail.
    Early in 2011, I tried to login to the newer Windows Live… only to find they had lost EVERYTHING on my main email account! They also refused to allow me entry to my second account under a different name.
    It took them 3 months to recover my account! By this time I had a YAHOO account.
    To put it politely, the Windows Live change turned out to be unadulterated rubbish!
    If they were just confusing I could probably understand them!
    I will never use them again.

  2. thanks leo just as soon as i get a minute i intend to consign windows live and all it’s useless works-to oblivion! you may ask where is that? answer:L anywhere but on my computers-perhaps somewhere in Skydrive-forever lost!

  3. I think of a Windows Live account like a Google account. I have one log on for my Google personalized search page, Google Docs, Google Voice, etc.

  4. I have problems with the way they tie it all together. I liked to keep my hotmail and my IM separate. But now IM pops up in my Hotmail screen. And sometimes messages pop up there, and not in my IM screen so I miss them since I never look at them in my Hotmail screen. Make sense? Wish I could tell Hotmail to not bind with my IM anymore – it doesn’t work nicely and only aggravates me. Windows live is not Facebook so it should quite trying to be! Otherwise I just might be moving on too!

  5. I’m thinking it came preloaded on my Windows 7 laptop. As most have exclaimed, it’s very confusing at best. My question is this:

    Is it okay to remove this program from my computer?


    It depends on exactly what you think you’re removing. As I mentioned, “Windows Live” is mostly not a program at all, but a set of online services, and thus there’s nothing to uninstall.


  6. Excellent explanation…until you posted this, Leo, I’ve never been able to even slightly grasp what Microsoft was trying to provide to it’s customers (like me) with “Windows Live”.

    Thank, much!!

  7. A brand name, of sorts. With nothing to do with anything being “live.” Remember the joke about driving along the highway and seeing a billboard for a strip club that advertises “25 LIVE nudes?” I mean, why would I stop for any other kind? There’s a connotation that Windows Live is opposed to, what, earlier versions of Windows Dead? Is there some kind of Frankenstein activity created in my computer with Windows Live? (It’s ALIVE! My creature is ALIVE!)

    It sounds kinda scary. But now that I know it’s just a meaningless name, I’m not so worried about it. (Yes, meaningless. What does LIVE have to do with anything?)

  8. Leo!
    You deserve a Pulitzer for sorting out that labyrinth. At the same time, I’d like to twist a hangman’s noose around the collected necks of MS’s marketing “namers”.

    I’m channeling Dante right now for him to edit in a Circle for these guys in his “Purgatorio”, and getting a biiiiiig bellows ready to blow on those hot coals.

  9. Yep! Add me to the countless list of folk who don’t / didn’t know what the heck this ‘Live’ thing was. Typical Microsoft – confusing and like most of it’s software, murder to use. Proof is in the millions of posting on their various forums.

  10. I agree that Microsoft seems to have little to no clue about the confusion their strange naming policies have. In fact, I think there is no policy or guideline on names. It seems to just depend on who the project manager is or what they want or feel that day… (another example, look at how the office suite names sometimes just transpose the words from one version to next).

    Re. ‘Windows Live’, it is definitely confusing – even to me. And to folks I work with who use the phrases “Windows Live” or “Live Windows” referring to most anything on their windows computer.
    (When I try to discover what they are actually talking about, they will often think I am an idiot for not knowing or being too picky. If only I had esp — or maybe not.)

  11. At some point, long ago, I opened a “Live” account, and downloaded their programming. After some little time trying various “Live” apps, I removed the programs from my PC. However, as there isn’t a way I know of to cancel a Live account, I still use the email addy occasionally. It’s the account I use if I think something I’m signing up for might add me to mailing/spam lists. *****@ … I suppose ‘live’ and ‘hotmail’ go to and from the same mail servers.

    Thi article discusses closing Windows Live accounts: How do I close my Windows Live Hotmail account?


  12. Leo wrote:

    “Confusion #2: It’s a desert topping and a floor wax!”

    You, Sirrah, have been playing The Lurking Horror by Infocom, haven’t you?   :)

    No doubt the reference is to a joke even older than Infocom, but as it happens, Infocom is the oldest source I know of: GUE Tech, in the game “The Lurking Horror”, had a bottle labelled “Floor Wax (and Dessert Topping)” located at the west end of the Infinite Corridor…   :)

    Leo also wrote:

    “That single Windows Live account that you’ve created to gain access to Windows Live Hotmail also means that you have a Windows Live Messenger account, access to SkyDrive, Photo Gallery, Mesh and more. Lots more… And if you do end up using those additional services, there’s no way to close or access them separately. If you lose access to your Windows Live Hotmail, perhaps due to being hacked for example, you’ve lost access to all of the Windows Live online services associated with it…”

    I shudder upon reading this — what a hideous  security risk! Here we all are, preaching that people shouldn’t use the same username and password over and over for different online services — so what does Microsoft do? It literally forces  people who use their services to do exactly and precisely that!!! I mean, Jesus God!!! Are they just stupid, or what!? They’re just begging  for disaster…

    “It’s a desert topping AND a floor wax” dates back to 1976 and Season 1 of Saturday Night Live.


  13. @Glenn
    Good point! You are right that consolidating all of these is a potential security hazard. This can be circumvented by havening a separate Hotmail account just for accessing SkyDrive or what ever other Live service you desire.

  14. Leo, Thanks for a very intelligent explanation of the “Live” situation. As a reluctant user from XP to WIN 7, these new terms were a definite puzzle to me. I can’t wait for the next confusing OS from Microsoft with all its ramifications.

  15. Is ATT Yahoo mail the same as Window Live ?
    If so, which service is the best?

    They’re two different services from two completely different companies. Which is better is a matter of opinion, but in my eyes they’re about the same when it comes to overall quality.

  16. No ATT Yahoo mail is not the same as Window Live but Yahoo is just as confused, in that your Yahoo! ID extends way beyond your email account to allow access to a wide range of yahoo products and services. Lose access to your email address and you won’t be able to view your photos stored on Flickr. Break the rules on Yahoo! Answers and you might lose access to all your email messages.

  17. Okay, so as I am deleting all the other craplets on my new Windows 7 computer, can I go ahead and uninstall Windows Live too?

    As long as you’re not using any Windows Live services.

  18. I just got a new computer with Windows 7 and see that they have changed the photo area to Windows Live photo if I choose to download it….Is it worth downloading or do you think there is something better out there for photos ? I have a photoshop program that I have downloaded too but for now it is way too complicated and so I’m looking for something that does a good job but is simple to use….Thanks.

  19. Wow !!!! It is GREAT to have a resident smart person to go to on my computer. I do get confused about the numerous programs. I have windows 7 and now also have a laptop with windows 10. Thank you for being here !!


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