Although usually a fan of Microsoft products, I'm hugely disappointed with Windows Live Mail, and so after seven years of being a Hotmail user, I finally switched to Gmail.
Web-based email has been an exciting area to follow over the last couple of years. Well, for me anyway. Google's Gmail revolutionised email by offering practically unlimited storage and a fast interface, Yahoo provided vast upgrades and improvements to its online Web service to its millions of existing users, and Microsoft’s Hotmail (eventually) phased in more storage, better functionality and more features.
Now I must admit I've never been a Yahoo user. I've never liked the whole 'portal' concept. Granted, for people who are new to the Web, or people who are simply light Web users, portals like Yahoo are great -- they provide a one-stop shop for news, chat and search. I've just never used the Internet that way, which is why I've never used Yahoo mail. I have tested it though, and I certainly liked using its POP3 service on an old mobile phone when I was on holiday for a month. Apart from that I've always found Yahoo cheap-looking and rather like 'pretend Internet'.
I was a Hotmail user for seven years. This was mainly due to being locked into Microsoft Web services due to Hotmail's proprietary mail functions. For example, Hotmail doesn't allow simple POP or SMTP protocols -- you must use Outlook (which isn't convenient for some people) or more recently Live Mail Desktop. But once Gmail came on the scene, I began to see what I was missing from email. I never made the switch immediately though.
This brings me up to date and leads me to explain why, after seven years of being a dedicated Hotmail user, I ditched the service for Google's mail service. I applaud the Live Mail team for constructing something so akin to Microsoft Outlook, but for personal email I'm incredibly dissatisfied with Windows Live Mail. In comparison to Gmail, it's slow, clunky and frustrating. I have lost several emails during composition (whereas Gmail kindly autosaves every minute) and I didn't like the search performance either. Although search was okay, it failed to find an email I knew was in a folder, something Gmail found immediately when I sent the same email to my Gmail account.
I also dislike the number of bright, flashy ads on WLM. It distracted from the private nature of email, whereas Gmail displays relevant text ads that are unnoticable for the most part, and despite disputes over privacy when the service first launched, the ad-serving feature is completely safe, private and confidential.
The Windows Live Mail team have, however, developed a much-improved email service, and if Google's Gmail wasn't around as a comparative benchmark, I'd be praising them for their hard work and praising the new mail service. Sadly for WLM, Google's Gmail is around, and it continues to serve as a benchmark that all other Web mail should be compared to.
Also, Gmail lets you use POP and SMTP! No more annoying proprietory Microsoft email system, which means I can use the email functionality on my mobile phone. (Note: There is also a free Gmail application you can download to mobile phones -- made by Google -- which seamlessly brings the Gmail web experience to mobile phones and portable Internet devices, without having to browse to Gmail using your phone's Web prowser.)
I'd normally take this moment to say that Windows Live Mail is still in beta, and that final opinions should wait until the product is finished. But Gmail is also still in beta, and a vastly more robust and enjoyable service.
I wish the best for Windows Live Mail. I'm pro-Microsoft and I fully back all attempts to make a service they've offered for years and years become better in the face of new competition. But as a heavy email user, and a geek to boot, I'm going to use what's best, and Google Mail is best...