Microsoft also is building bridges between desktop and Web-based e-mail with both the Outlook Connector beta synchronizer and the Windows Live Mail beta download.
Setup and interface
Signing up for Windows Live Hotmail takes several minutes. You'll need to pick a Windows Live ID, which you can use to access other Windows Live services including Windows Live Messenger. You may also be able to use an old Microsoft Passport ID, should you have set one up years ago. We didn't even have to step through any questionnaire minefields asking if we wanted to sign up for newsletters. Microsoft also estimates the strength of your password and won't let you use your name for that purpose. Thankfully, we didn't encounter setup or sign-in snags as we did with AOL Mail.
The interface of Windows Live Hotmail resembles that of Microsoft Outlook, with messages organized into panes. 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, such as the up and down arrow keys to move among Inbox messages. And clicking the right mouse key on a message brings up options for replying to an e-mail, among other choices. The interface also offers the choice of nine color themes. Clicking the logo in the upper-left corner of the screen pulls down a list of options.
Windows Live Hotmail features an animated banner ad atop the page. This ad may target you according to details you entered when signing up, such as your city and gender. Unlike Gmail, however, Windows Live Hotmail does not sift through the text of your messages to serve up personalized advertising.
The Classic view, which you can revert to at any time, better resembles the old layout of Hotmail. Whether you choose the Classic or new look, Windows Live Mail offers 2GB of free storage and up to 4GB for $19.99 per year. 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. Gmail's nine months of inactivity is the most generous of the major e-mail services.