Ok, so it was worth it.
In WL pack you get new Windows Live Messenger 8.5 (not much difference), and three nice programs - WL Mail which is a nice substitution (and upgrade) over good old Outlook Express, MS blogging tool called WL Writer and first real good Microsoft's picture viewer/manager.
So let's start with least impressive part and some "flaming" ;)
WL Messenger (we all still call MSN) is same old dog with a new skin and a few tweaks. Personally, I haven't found anything new in it except the skin, but I guess there should be some improvements since the version jumped this much :D Probably "compatible with Vista" or some similar nonsense.
Second part is OE made for Vista - WL Mail.
It will greet you with a nice new look, though at first a bit confusing since you can't find the Options! No fear, it's here, and it looks like this
So once our fears of "option-less" mailing program are gone, what we do find in options is almost a copy/paste from old OE. It's good since it's familiar, and it's bad since all those "|337" users will flame it all the way around. You don't get full featured Outlook, but you get what most ppl around will find more than enough.
What are it's main features, IMHO? Well, first one is that when you're setting up mail accounts it will recognize Hotmail/Gmail address and setup most of it itself (you do have to put in your name and password). And - it works. No options would even work here, if you're an average user. Just 3 things to write in wizard and you're off! But it has more there... First and most important, you can tweak the layout with reading pane positioning and all that (through the same "options" icon on top) which OE lacked a lot. Also, you get your accounts separated, and colored differently, which is nice - looks nice, is easy to understand an all... And finally, they haven't forgotten about news reader - truth to be told one of a few good reasons that we had to defend OE since other programs are either dedicated mail readers or news readers. WL Mail just like OE before it is - both on one package.
There is a good degree of integration with WL Messenger as well, since it provides one-click button to open it from WL Mail and you are just a double-click away from sending a message to someone if you have that contact open in WL Mail.
All in all, solid. I didn't even expect this "much". It's MS after all, they do evolution not revolution. Well, sometimes they do, and people mostly don't like it :D
Let's go in to - WL Writer
What's that? Nope, it's not a free Word or a Wordpad replacement. It's a bloggers dream - an offline tool to write and manage your blogs. I know, it's by no means first, and I am not one to say it's best (since it's first I've tried) - but it has it's advantages.
You know how many buttons I had to press? alt+PrtScr followed by Ctrl+V. Yup, you get it. It made a thumbnail, linked to original, and once I'm done it should be on web without much hassle. I'll leave this picture as it is, but as you can see on the first one (WL Mail) it supports text wrapping, and you can link/unlink original (I've removed original in WL Mail so you can't see much of my details.. hopefully ;) ), resize both thumbnail and/or original, adjust margins, add and change borders, rotate, adjust contrast, ad watermarks of your choice and several standard effects like B&W, Sepia, Gaussian blur etc. Of course, you can attach and modify any image as you wish.
Ok, where was I? Well sure, options of all kinds.. they all exist, like font/paragraph management, saving drafts and all, but let's get back to setup and options for a moment. While it supports Blogger and dozen others as well, what I like the most is the level of integration. It can download template you're using so you can have an instant preview, you can change name of blog, edit already posted blogs etc. You can also edit text alone, edit inside downloaded template, or dig into HTML if you like to do so. Oh, and it includes spell-checking, which is nice for us that aren't native English speakers.
Well, enough of it, let's go to WL Photo Gallery finally.
It's been a pleasant surprise for me, I have to say that for once! Even more than this blogging tool of theirs :) Why so? Let's start with a bit of history of my own, some background. I've had a new digital camera for a few months now, and already a few gigs of pictures. I've used Picassa to organize them in a hurry, and once labeled I've assigned some keywords to those groups. They were IPTC which is one way of "tagging" pictures. I've tried converting those to XMP but didn't have much luck because of letter specifics of our language (with accents all over the place). So I gave up mostly, being satisfied that most of the newer programs can read both IPTC and XMP so any will do. What did Photo Gallery do at first, was a nice surprise. As soon as I've added pictures, it showed their tags! As soon as I've added ones with local letters I got disappointed.. for a moment. All I had to do is click on a tag and rename it to correct this. Now it shows them fine. Though what it did I'm not sure if I like, since now all of those pictures have keywords only in XMP and it erased IPTC tags :( Oh well, I guess since Vista can handle them I'll be fine in the future. But if I had to chose I'd pick IPTC since it's supported by a mass of older and elderly programs... Though any new ones, specially from the likes of Microsoft or Adobe, will work more than well with XMP. Oh, did I mention it was lightning fast compared to Picassa's own keyword editing?! Well IT IS!
Ok, on with the program. Mostly it has nice sorting features, since you can pick a tag, and than further group all the pictures by let's say date/time taken, and than scroll through quickly made "Table of contents" to just the bunch you're interested in. And let me tell you, it has quite a few grouping/filtering options. Just an example, but it shows the power. You can pick a tag "holidays" & "sunshine", group them by time taken and pick one from last summer, so let's say "13. August 2007", and than even further look through already filtered results by searching using search box on top. Of course, you can pick a folder as well, or all tags/all folders. You can add tags to the pictures you've filtered and/or selected. Or you can just start a simple slide show for the selection.. Or mail them. Or.. well you get it.
There is simple editor included for red-eye reduction, cropping, color adjustments and simple stuff like that. It's opened by "Fix" button. You can also easily print or publish it (to MS own Spaces or to Fickr), or burn to CD/DVD.
Well, that's it mostly. Now I'll post this thing to see if Writer works ;)