I've always been a bit intimidated by video editing software. It overwhelms me, offering too many options and not enough explanations to guide a moviemaking novice like me. That's why I thought Microsoft's Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 (free) might be my perfect app, as it's designed for casual users like me. And while Movie Maker is easy enough to use, and produces generally pleasing results, it's also a bit limited--even by my standards.
Movie Maker 2011 is part of Microsoft's Windows Live Essentials pack; you can choose to install all of the bundled software, or you can opt to pick and choose apps. It's designed to help you turn photos and videos into slideshows and movies, complete with soundtracks, captions, and transitions.
Getting started is easy: you select the photos and/or videos you'd like to include in your finished product, and Movie Maker automatically arranges them into a storyboard-style layout. The app supports a variety of file formats for importing, including WMV, AVCHD, QuickTime, AVI, MPEG-4, MPEG-2, and MOV video files, and JPEG, TIFF, GIF, BMP, ICO, PNG, and WDP photo files.
With the files imported, the storyboard makes it easy to visualize your finished movie, and to rearrange its contents as you're working. You can select one of four AutoMovie themes, which will create your movie for you, adding a title and transitions. If you're feeling more ambitious, you can customize your movie a bit more, by trimming and splitting videos; panning and zooming; adding varied transitions; adjusting brightness; and adding visual effects, like black and white or sepia tones. You also can add captions and credits, and a soundtrack, if you'd like. But that's about it. If you're looking for more advanced effects, you're out of luck--Movie Maker 2011 really is designed for producing basic (though polished) movies, and fast.
Once you've completed your movie, Movie Maker presents you with several options for sharing it. You can upload it directly to YouTube, Facebook, Windows Live SkyDrive, Flickr, or Windows Live Groups. You also have the option to format it for viewing on a mobile device, though the only devices listed in the menu or Windows Phones or Zune portable media players. Movie Maker also lets you share your movie via e-mail, burn it right to a DVD, or save it on your desktop. Note that all of these options save your movie as a Windows Media Audio/Video file, though--no alternative video formats supported here.
If you're looking for a drop-dead simple way to create good-looking slideshows and movies, Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 can handle the task. Just be aware that this free software offers only the basics, so you may outgrow it quickly, and may find yourself stepping up to an app such as Adobe's $100 Premiere Elements.