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There might be something new for your Inbox today--the Inbox itself. When you log in to MSN Hotmail, a green button like this one should invite you to try the new Windows Live Hotmail.

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Classic view resembles the old layout of Hotmail. Whether you choose the classic or new look, Windows Live Mail offers 2GB of free storage. And instead of shutting down your account after a month of inactivity, Microsoft lets you ignore your e-mail for 120 days. Still, after having lost several years' worth of messages by ignoring an old account in the past, we'd prefer a service without a cutoff date.

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A page of MSN News greets you when you log in to Windows Live Hotmail or Office Live Mail, two different services with the same AJAX-driven features. Clicking those story links will open a new browser window or tab. Yahoo Mail beta has a similar setup.

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Hotmail holds the hands of e-mail newbies, even reminding you to fill in the address bar.

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When you choose to depart the Classic view and try the new Windows Live Hotmail interface, you'll get several choices for displaying messages.

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This view of Windows Live Hotmail is similar to the default layout of Microsoft Outlook. The animated banner ad targets you according to details you entered, such as your city and gender, when signing up for the e-mail service. Unlike Gmail, however, Windows Live Hotmail does not sift through the text of your messages to tailor advertising to you.

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The "Switch to classic" link in the lower left corner lets you return to the Classic view at any time, an option Microsoft recommends for those with a dial-up connection.

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You can pick from among nine color themes, an option not allowed by Yahoo Mail beta and Gmail.

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You can choose Full Message view to allow an e-mail message more screen space while you read.

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You can highlight multiple messages at a time-- using the SHIFT and CTRL keys--and drag messages into various folders. There are several other keyboard shortcuts. For instance, your "up" and "down" arrow keys move to the next or previous messages in your list. However, CTRL-Enter won't send a message, as it does in Outlook and Yahoo Mail beta.

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As in Microsoft Word, Windows Live Hotmail underlines your misspellings in red.

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You can select a message and then right-click on your mouse to bring up options for handling the e-mail.

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If you choose View Source from the mouse right-click menu, a browser window opens showing the code underlying that e-mail message.

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Windows Live Hotmail contains a built-in audio player. When you open a message with a music file attached to it, Hotmail prompts you to save or open the file in Windows Media Player. Click Cancel to play the song in your e-mail inbox instead. Once you click another message, the song stops playing. We're curious to see how Microsoft might integrate a video player at a later date.

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If you're using the Mozilla Firefox browser, however, Windows Live Hotmail will prompt you to download the MP3. During our tests, we remained logged in to Windows Live Hotmail in both Firefox and Internet Explorer at the same time.

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Windows Live Hotmail has a cool photo-uploading feature that previews what's on your hard drive. First, we had to enable an ActiveX control.

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You can change the name of a picture before you upload it.

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You can also rotate an image.

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In addition to sorting messages by sender, subject, date, and size, you can show only messages with a particular subject or sender, or those containing attachments. Windows Live Hotmail does not search the content of attachments, unlike Outlook and Yahoo Mail beta.

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Unlike Yahoo Mail beta, in which calendar dates appear at the bottom of the page, there isn't much calendar integration at this point within Windows Live Hotmail. Microsoft hasn't made public whether it will release an iCal-compatible calendar, a la Google's and Yahoo's calendars.

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There's no built-in chatting as Gmail and Yahoo Mail beta allow. But Windows Live Hotmail is supposed to detect the presence of fellow Windows Live users and then bring up Windows Live Messenger if you want to chat. Unfortunately, though, this feature wasn't working for us the first day of the Windows Live Hotmail launch. We weren't able to add one contact who had a valid Windows Live ID. And the contact we were able to add didn't appear live in our Inbox.

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As in the Microsoft Office 2007 applications, clicking the logo in the upper left corner of the screen pulls down a list of options for connecting to other Windows Live services.

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Windows Live Hotmail blocks images and Web links until you allow them. A yellow or red security bar will appear atop a message flagged as a security threat, such as a phishing e-mail. Within a potential spam message like this one, the link appears but we can't click on it until we tell Windows Live Hotmail to stop blocking content. It's probably a good idea to mark the people you regularly contact as "safe senders."

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However, when our trusted contact sent us this message all about a drug that spammers love, Windows Live Hotmail did not flag it as a potential threat.

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