No one's quite solved the problem of how to bring all your contacts and pictures across all your networks together into one place, but Windows 8 is going to try its best.
The People and Photos apps in the latest version of Microsoft's operating system, which uses the (hopefully) simple Metro user interface, pull information in from a whole host of services, including Hotmail, Gmail, SkyDrive, Twitter and Facebook.
A pre-release version of Windows 8 is already out there for you to try, in anticipation of the full launch in the autumn. So if you want to bring all your people together in one happy gathering now, follow this guide.
Adding accounts in People
Open up the People app from the Metro Start page to begin. You'll see the contacts you have on your various Windows Live/Microsoft/Hotmail accounts as you'll already be signed in to your Windows Account. To add more accounts, hover the mouse cursor in the top or bottom right-hand corner of the screen, select the Settings 'charm', then pick Accounts. Choose 'Add account' and you'll be met with Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, Exchange, LinkedIn and Google.
The procedure in each case is very similar -- you'll need to provide your username and password to give Windows 8 access to your account and add contacts to the People list. If you're adding a Google Account with two-step verification enabled, you'll need to visit your Google Account page first to generate an application-specific password, rather than using your standard Google password.
To take more control over your accounts -- such as how much of your Facebook information Windows 8 is able to access -- go back into the Settings charm, select the relevant account, then follow the link to manage the account online. Internet Explorer (Metro edition) will pop up, giving you more granular controls over how the operating system interacts with the service in question.
The feature hasn't quite been finished, and you'll sometimes see reference to 'Windows Phone' rather than Windows 8. Microsoft's aim is to get all of your essential contact data synced across multiple platforms and devices. The accounts you've added won't appear immediately, so you'll need to wait a few minutes before all of your contacts show up on the People screen.
The more popular you are, the busier your People screen will be once you've imported all the accounts you'd like to. The app will attempt to consolidate certain contacts together -- you might see the option to contact someone via Facebook Chat or Windows Messenger, for example. But from my time with the software, this doesn't yet work with any degree of accuracy and there's no option to merge contacts manually.
What you can do, if you click through to the individual contact pages, is make edits to the 'real-life' data stored with each contact (covering email addresses, postal addresses, phone numbers and so on). Right-click on a blank part of the contact screen and choose Edit to do this.
How many of the fields are pre-populated will depend on which service the contact has been imported from, so Google contacts will already display much of this real-world data, while Twitter contacts won't.
Also available on the right-click menu are options to 'favourite' contacts or pin them to the Start page. This means you can pick out important contacts from the mass of profiles that have been imported. Favourite contacts are listed at the start of the People page, while those that are pinned to the Metro Start page are given an animated tile that rotates between their designated profile picture and their most recent social network update.
Click the 'What's new' heading at the top of the People app to see a stream of updates from the social networks you've chosen to connect, listed in chronological order. This being Windows 8, each update is given its own tile on screen. Pictures from Twitter and Facebook are shown in-line where available, while links you click on are opened up in the Metro version of Internet Explorer.
Click into the update itself and you can reply, favourite and retweet (if using Twitter), or add a comment or a like (Facebook). Everything is skinned with the simple Metro user interface and Microsoft has done a decent job of making everything feel as seamless as possible. Click the Me heading, next to What's new, and you'll see notifications from your Twitter and Facebook accounts, including recent replies and updates.
Scroll to the right to see recent photos attached to your Facebook account -- if you want to see all of the pictures you've uploaded to Facebook and your other networks, you'll need to open the Metro Photos app.
The Photos app takes a similar approach to the People one, in that you can plug in all kinds of accounts to seamlessly browse pictures as if they were all in one place. Microsoft's own cloud-based online file-storing service, SkyDrive, is supported. But you can also add Facebook and Flickr accounts, as well as see pictures stored on your hard drive.
Click on any of the services in the Photos app to log in and connect. Options from within the Photos app are limited at the moment -- you can launch a slideshow or set a picture as the Windows 8 lock screen, but there isn't the ability to share a photo between services.
What you can do is choose to view the photo on the web within Metro, where more features can be found. Select to view a picture on SkyDrive, for example, and you can then post a link to Facebook or Twitter.
As Microsoft improves its SkyDrive offering and the mobile apps that support it, you can expect to see more polish and extra functionality appearing in the Photos app before October's official launch of Windows 8.