So the first question that springs to most people’s minds is “what on earth is the Windows Live Admin Center” (aside from another triumph from the Microsoft Product Naming Department). Well it used to be called Windows Live Custom Domains (which was a far better name), and it allows you to offer all of the Windows Live features (email, LiveID, Messenger, storage etc) under your own domain name instead of using the live.com domain.
Where this can be useful is in providing a group or community with an email address that is relevant to them, along with the other existing services such as 25Gb Storage, Messenger and so forth. The advantage of this is not in getting a free email account – we all know how easy that is, but it is enabling a group to have a better identity online. This could be done for charities, community groups, town, city’s – or even countries. The limit is initially set to 500, but can be increased to an unlimited amount if you contact support.
As long as you own the domain it does not matter if it is .com, .co.uk, .gov or whatever. It is just a great way of offering the existing free Live services but under your own domain.
You have a number of different ways to create and manage accounts. There is a web UI where you can happily create accounts, which works nicely for small numbers. For larger numbers there is an SDK that gives you access to web services to add, update, delete and manage accounts so that you could automate the creation of accounts. For completeness there is also the code to allow you to import csv files in the SDK.
If you don't want to manage the accounts, you can create it so that people can provision accounts for themselves. This can either be done on your site or hosted on a page on the Live.com servers so you can email url’s to people.
All of the accounts that you provision are valid LiveID's, so from there people then get access to Messenger (you can use it to sign into Messenger with) and also Windows SkyDrive for the 25Gb storage, You can get to this storage either through the 'More' option on the Windows Live menu or at http://skydrive.live.com.
The other option you have is co-branding, however it is pretty underwhelming. You can upload a 21px high and 93px wide image that will get displayed; I think co-branding is a bit of an overstatement....
I have a couple of spare domain names, so I thought I would see what it is all about and how easy is it. Well the short answer is, it works and it is really simple.
You add in the Domain you want to host, and then for that domain (you will need to update the details with whoever is managing your domain – they normally have an admin page where you can do it yourself) you need to add or change the MX record so that the mail is delivered to the Hotmail servers rather the existing ones. You can also point a sub-domain such as mail.mydomain.com to the hotmail page as well.
All in all it took about 3-5 minutes to do, and after a few minutes of waiting for the changes to sync you are now sending and receiving emails from your own domain and email accounts.
Nice, simple, easy. (unlike the name)
<Updated the post a bit to include the co-branding and clear up another couple of questions>