Windows Live review: Windows Live

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Among the features that you can't find elsewhere at this point, Windows Live Hotmail includes 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 Inbox instead. Once you click another message, however, the song stops. A cool photo-uploading feature previews what's on your hard drive and allows you to rename and rotate pictures before attaching them to an e-mail message (This and the inline audio player work only in Internet Explorer.) We're curious to see how Microsoft might integrate a video player at a later date.

Prefer the old Hotmail? You can't get it back, but the Classic view comes close. Classic view is the default, and you can revert to it at any time after using the newer style interface.

Also, a built-in spelling checker underlines suspect words with a red squiggly line, reminiscent of Microsoft Word. 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 automatically blocks images and Web links unless you authorize them. A yellow or red security bar appears atop any message flagged as a security threat, such as a phishing e-mail. We like this easy-to-follow approach. However, while the security bar blocked some spam content, it did not appear in potentially suspicious messages sent to us by contacts we had already labeled as trusted senders.

When logged on with Internet Explorer, you can play MP3 and WAV files directly from your Inbox.

Unfortunately, an RSS reader, built-in previews of Microsoft Office documents, and calendar integration are all lacking, although Microsoft says that it will continue to update Windows Live Hotmail with new features in the coming months and beyond. Other features offered currently by competitors such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail beta include built-in chatting. However, Windows Live Hotmail can detect the presence of fellow Windows Live users and then bring up a Windows Live Messenger window if you want to chat. Unfortunately, we couldn't get this feature to work the first day of the Windows Live Hotmail launch.

Overall, we've found Windows Live Hotmail faster and sleeker than its predecessor. However, users who are accustomed to the old-style Hotmail may prefer to use the Classic view. The features of popular, Web-based e-mail services from Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google are so similar that we don't see an overwhelming reason for anyone to switch brands aside from personal preference for a specific feature set. That said, Hotmail is an obvious choice if you like to use Microsoft's many other Windows Live products within Internet Explorer.

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