After what seems like years of silence, Microsoft today finally started discussing its next major version of the Windows Live platform, called Wave 4. Here's the word from Chris Jones over at the Inside Windows Live Blog:

Today marks the point where we shift the focus from our current services to our next major release – known internally as "Wave 4."

For several months now, we've had several thousand people running regular builds of this code inside Microsoft, and we'll shortly begin expanding this testing to some folks outside Microsoft for additional feedback.

We will then roll out updates to our web services, followed by betas of our software for Windows PCs, Macs, and phones. Our approach is to release betas to the public once we think the build is in pretty good shape, learn through beta usage data and beta user feedback, and make additional refinements that eventually become the final release. Of course, we'll continue to update the service as we see how you use it every day and hear from you about what’s working and what needs improvement.

While there’s a ton of great stuff to come, you’re going to hear us really focus on three key areas – Messenger, Hotmail, and Windows Live Essentials — especially how the Essentials suite completes your Windows PC experience and connects your PC to the services you use every day.

Windows Live Messenger - staying in touch with the people who matter most

In the not-so-distant past, your friends were mostly on one IM network, mostly on a PC, and it was easy to keep track of what they were doing. Today’s instant messaging is still mostly about people who are online on a PC having a conversation with each other ... But in the last several years, conversations have shifted beyond IM sessions, to activity on social networks, sharing in email, and SMS messages.

Messenger is evolving into a companion for your social networks, so you can stay in touch more easily with your closest friends across the many services you and they use. As we broaden Messenger's reach, we remain committed to ensuring that you’re in control of your privacy. From simple defaults that keep your private life private, to powerful controls customizing how you share.

Hotmail - the most efficient email service for busy people

Email today is a lot more than plain text – it is the way we get things done. It's where we conduct business, keep up with social networking updates, and share photos, documents and links with friends and co-workers. Similarly, your “contact list” isn’t just people you send email to anymore – it is a long list of people you communicate with in the social networks you use every day.

We’ll focus our improvements in Hotmail on helping all those busy people get more done in email, in the most efficient way possible. This means helping you quickly see the mail that matters most, and letting you easily sweep away mail that you don’t want. We’ll also make it simpler and easier to share through email, whether you're sharing and editing Office documents with co-workers, or sharing vacation photos with friends and family.

Windows Live Essentials - completing the Windows experience on your PC

Wave 4 of Windows Live Essentials includes the best tools to organize photos, make movies, and keep in touch with your closest friends, all designed for the power of the Windows 7 PC. We’ll focus on connecting your PC to your social networks, your photo sharing services, your phone, and your other PCs – and help you keep things in sync across all the devices you use.

I can't wait to find out more, and to discuss what I've already learned. Stay tuned, folks. It's going to be a very interesting year for Windows Live.