Windows Live review: Windows Live

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The Good Windows Live Hotmail offers both a new interface and a Classic view; inline dictionary and thesaurus; built-in audio player; basic image editing; automatic link and image blocking; integrates with desktop Windows Live Mail and Outlook.

The Bad Hotmail includes ads in the interface and your e-mail messages; no RSS newsreader; storage is smaller than that of competitors; lacks built-in chatting as well as integration with mapping and blogging; some features only work in Internet Explorer.

The Bottom Line Drag-and-drop message organization and a built-in MP3 player are among the notable new features to this radical overhaul of Hotmail.

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7.0 Overall
  • Setup 7
  • Features 8
  • Support 6

Review Sections

Much like the ongoing renovation of Yahoo Mail beta, the MSN Hotmail service has undergone a face-lift that makes it resemble a desktop e-mail client. Like Yahoo, the new Windows Live Hotmail uses a blend of dynamic HTML and JavaScript--dubbed AJAX--to preload messages so that you don't have to wait long for content to appear. Other convenient tweaks include the capability to drag and drop messages into folders. Unlike Yahoo and Gmail, Microsoft's popular e-mail service has emerged from beta testing as a final product for all users to try--although more features are likely to trickle in soon.

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 organizes messages into panes, letting you drag and drop e-mails into folders.

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.

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