When I think about all of the disparate parts that make up Windows Live, the mobile pieces are the ones that I understand least well. Part of the problem is that Microsoft doesn't just support its own Windows Mobile system with Windows Live products and services, though that mobile OS is the place to be if you want the full meal deal. But Microsoft also offers some interesting subsets of Windows Live functionality on a number of competing mobile platforms, and of course recent Wave 3 improvements--like universal POP3 access to Hotmail--will open up the platform even more. In any event, it's not possible for me to test Windows Live on every possible mobile platform, so much of this discussion will be confined to Windows Mobile.

From a broad perspective, however, mobile access to Windows Live products and services is becoming increasingly important and, going forward, it's hard not to imagine a future in which mobile versions of Windows Live are as important--if not more important--than even the Web and PC versions. Indeed, it's no coincidence that the new rallying cry in the Windows Division at Microsoft is "Windows on the PC, the Web, and the phone." Each is a critical part of the Windows ecosystem and, thus, of Windows Live.

That said, even in Wave 3, the mobile pieces of Windows Live--and more specifically, the Windows Mobile pieces of Windows Live--are the least mature of the offerings. We can lay the blame for this at the feet of two related problems. One, the mobile Web is not as full-featured as the wider Web, and that's especially true on Windows Mobile, where the lackluster IE Mobile of today holds back mobile developers in ways that should shame Microsoft. And Windows Mobile itself isn't exactly a hot spot of innovation either: The native Windows Mobile applications that the Windows Live team creates are likewise constrained by the limitations of that platform as well.

Still, there are obvious avenues to explore here. Email and contacts integration with native Outlook Mobile applications on Windows Mobile, for example. Over-the-air access to your Windows Live Messenger-based buddy list. Mobile photo uploading to Windows Live Photos. Access--weak as it is at the moment--to Windows Live Calendar-based appointments. You get the idea.

This, then, is a peek at some of the mobile functionality you can expect in Windows Live Wave 3.

What is Windows Live for Mobile?

Microsoft says that "Windows Live for Mobile activates the Windows Live experience on mobile devices." This language deliberately mimics the way that the company describes how Windows Live Essentials "lights up" the desktop versions of Windows by adding additional useful and interesting functionality. However, because Microsoft doesn't control all of the platforms by which users will access mobile versions of its Windows Live services, Microsoft cannot provide as cohesive a strategy in the mobile space as it can on the Web or on the PC. So the company offers a confusing combination of native mobile applications (typically, but not always, only on Windows Mobile-based devices), mobile Web sites, SMS services, and, in some cases, a combination of those. (You can discover which applications and services are available for your particular phone by visiting the Windows Live Web site.)

Native Windows Live mobile applications

On compatible Windows Mobile devices, as well as a limited range of other devices, you can access native versions of Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, and Windows Live Spaces. (Hotmail and Windows Live Contacts-based contacts are typically integrated directly into Mobile Outlook). Many Windows Mobile devices also support uploading photos directly to Windows Live Photos from the phone's camera application.

The Windows Live for Windows Mobile client lets you synchronize your Windows Live Contacts with the device's address book, view your contacts (and sort them based on who's online), use Messenger to chat with contacts and groups, send and receive Hotmail -based email, and upload photos directly from the camera application on your phone.

The Windows Live for Nokia Series 40 devices (select models only) provides a native Windows Live Messenger experience. Windows Live Contacts are integrated into the phone's address book automatically.

The Windows Live for Nokia Series 60 devices (select models only) provides Windows Live Contacts synchronization with the phone's address book, a native Windows Live Messenger experience, Push-based Hotmail emails access, and Windows Live Photos uploading via the camera application.

Mobile Web

Many Windows Live services are available from mobile device: Just navigate to http://mobile.live.com to see what's available. This mobile version of Windows Live offers access to such services as the new What's New feed, Windows Live Profile, Windows Live People, Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Photos, and many others, including a Web version of Windows Live Messenger.

SMS

For less capable mobile devices, Microsoft provides access to some Windows Live services via SMS. For example, you can receive alerts from Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, and Windows Live Calendar. You can also update your profile via SMS, or view calendar items via SMS. Unfortunately, SMS access varies from mobile operator to mobile operator, and of course some users are charged for these transactions.

A look at the Windows Live for Mobile Wave 3 services

So what will be available from Windows Live for Mobile? Microsoft lists the following services, all of which should come online sometime between December 1 and the first quarter of 2009.

Windows Live Home for Mobile

What it is: A Web-based portal to your Windows Live information and network
Native version: No
Mobile Web version: Yes
SMS functionality: No

Your personal What's New feed is exposed through the Web-based Windows Live Home portal on mobile devices.


Windows Live Home for Mobile.

Windows Live Hotmail for Mobile

What it is: Mobile access to the world's most popular Web-mail service.
Native version: Yes (Windows Mobile)
Mobile Web version: Yes
SMS functionality: New mail alerts

The mobile Web version of Hotmail gets two excellent new features in Wav 3: email searching and rich HTML mail support. Native POP3 access to Hotmail will make this service available on far more mobile device types now, including the Apple iPhone.

Windows Live Messenger for Mobile

What it is: Instant messaging service
Native version: Yes (Windows Mobile, some Nokia and Blackberry models)
Mobile Web version: Yes
SMS functionality: Yes (send and receive IMs)

The native Windows Live Messenger client on Windows Mobile supports the new Multiple Points of Presence (MPOP) functionality that allows you to be signed in to Messenger from multiple PCs, mobile devices, and Web sites.

In addition to the IM functionality listed above, it's possible for PC-based Windows Live Messenger users to call friends' mobile phone numbers from a separate bundled application called Windows Live Call. (Which, sadly, is only available in "select" countries right now, and charges may apply depending on where you're calling from.) You can also send messages from Windows Live Messenger (PC) to any mobile phone using SMS. (Again, charges may apply depending on the user's mobile plan.)


Windows Live Messenger in the Windows Live for
Windows Mobile native application.

Windows Live Photos for Mobile

What it is: Mobile access to Microsoft's photo management, viewing, and sharing service
Native version: Upload photos only (Windows Mobile)
Mobile Web version: Yes
SMS functionality: No

Most Windows Mobile phones have a native Photos application that lets you take pictures with the built-in camera and view the photos that are currently stored on the device. The Wave 3 version will allow you to upload photos from the device to the Windows Live Photos service.

You can also view photos on Windows Live Photos using a mobile Web browser. You can browse albums, view photo thumbnails, see photo details, and add comments to photos.

 
Windows Live Photos for Mobile.

Windows Live Profile for Mobile

What it is: A way to share and update information about yourself with others in your Windows Live network
Native version: No
Mobile Web version: Yes
SMS functionality: Status update only

From the mobile version of the Windows Live Profile Web site, you can update your status and other information about yourself. You can also view other people's profiles from this site.

You can update your status from SMS as well.

Windows Live People for Mobile

What it is: Integrated contacts management system
Native version: Yes, via Windows Mobile Contacts application
Mobile Web version: Yes
SMS functionality: Contact info searching, send friend invites

The mobile version of this site allows you to view and accept or decline friend invites. You can also access and search contacts from the mobile Web interface.

Windows Live Spaces for Mobile

What it is: Microsoft's blog service
Native version: No
Mobile Web version: Yes
SMS functionality: No

Windows Live Calendar for Mobile

What it is: Microsoft's calendar and to-do item management system for consumers
Native version: No
Mobile Web version: No
SMS functionality: Access to today's and tomorrow's appointments only

While you might think that native access to Windows Live Calendar is a pretty obvious feature, especially on Windows Mobile, it's not happening in Wave 3. That's a curious omission, and one that seriously derails the usefulness of Microsoft's budding consumer-oriented calendaring service, as is the lack of a true mobile Web service. Hopefully both will be rectified sometime in 2009.

Final thoughts

While mobile access to Windows Live really completes the picture on the Wave 3 offerings, this is also the least full-featured of Microsoft's online efforts. It's getting better in Wave 3, but the lack of a native calendar client or Outlook Mobile Calendar integration is tough to understand. Other than that, Windows Live for Mobile appears to hit all the obvious functional bits customers will expect. I'm looking forward to trying out the new Wave 3 mobile sites, services, and applications.