Microsoft offers a number of services free of charge to help people live and work a little smarter. Over the next few weeks we're going to introduce you to a number of these services that can make life a little simpler and more fun.
More than a million Kiwis use at least one of these services. There are probably at least a million more who might like to. We hope you'll find something that will surprise and delight you.
As broadband speeds increase and datacentres become more efficient, cloud computing is revolutionising services to consumers and businesses. Microsoft offers popular services for email, online storage, document editing and search at no charge. All you need to use them is a modern web browser, such as Internet Explorer 9.
SkyDrive, Microsoft gives you 25 gigabytes of personal storage in the cloud. You can keep a private backup, share documents and photo albums with friends, or access your files on the go. It's fast and easy, and there's no charge.
If you add the complimentary Live Mesh application, you can also synchronise folders you choose between multiple computers. Live Mesh works with computers running a recent version of Windows or Mac OS X. You can also use a Live Mesh folder to automatically synchronise up to 5 gigabytes of files with your SkyDrive.
If you're on a computer that doesn't have Microsoft Office installed, just whip a Word, Excel, PowerPoint or OneNote file onto SkyDrive and give it a click. And there it is, open in your web browser. Document fidelity is great, so your hard work won't be lost in translation to the cloud.
The Microsoft Office Web Apps are great for collaboration, allowing you to edit a document at the same time as your friends. You can do light editing with just a web browser, or connect SkyDrive to a current version of Microsoft Office to get the best of both worlds.
Hotmail is one of the original cloud services, and it celebrated its 15th birthday this month. Microsoft works continually to make Hotmail faster, safer and better. It's a snappy webmail service and it's great for sharing photos, documents and videos.
The SkyDrive and Web Applications we talked about above are integrated right in. You also get a calendar and instant messaging. If you connect it with Facebook and LinkedIn, it can also help you synchronise all of your contacts.
It works beautifully with just a web browser, and of course you can hook it up to Microsoft Outlook and your favourite smartphone.
Bing is Microsoft's web search engine. We think people should have more than one search engine to find what's on the Internet. Today, Bing is the only viable competitor to Google's market share of more than 90% in New Zealand and many other countries.
As well as the usual results you would expect, Bing features a stunning new photograph every day. Bing won't nag you to use Google Chrome. And you'll probably find that Bing has fewer paid advertisements among the natural search results you get for New Zealand.
It's called a beta in New Zealand because we haven't launched the full decision engine here just yet, but you're welcome to switch your location to the US if you want to see enhancements like the pages your Facebook friends like in your search results (once you give Bing permission to connect to Facebook).