Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail

Windows Live Hotmail looks better, works faster and adds some neat features to Microsoft's web-based email service. Can it compete with Gmail?

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Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail

Pros

  • Improved interface, social networking features, Office integration

Cons

  • Minor confusion with social-networking contacts

Bottom Line

How does the revamped Hotmail compare to Gmail? In some ways, it's superior. The new Windows Live Hotmail beats Gmail hands down for social network integration; Gmail also lacks the ability to view embedded media content from sites such as YouTube. For email handling, while Gmail does an excellent job of that, we prefer the new Hotmail - but that's strictly a personal preference. This new version of Hotmail focuses largely on productivity enhancements such as improved mail handling. It's also now easily the most elegant-looking of any web-based mail service. If you've never used Hotmail before, or swore off it in the past, now is the time to take a new look - you'll likely be exceedingly pleased at what you find.

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Windows Live Hotmail: Improved security

Microsoft has added several new security features to Windows Live Hotmail, most of which work behind the scenes, such as the SmartScreen antispam tool and what Microsoft claims is an improved spammer detection infrastructure.

The one security measure you will notice is the "trusted senders" feature, which puts a green safety logo next to legitimate senders that are often the target of phishing scams, such as banks. Hotmail identifies those messages that are from valid financial institutions and other targeted companies, making it less likely that you'll be victimised by a phishing attack.

Windows Live Hotmail: Hotmail stays social

When you log into the new version of Windows Live Hotmail, you don't immediately go to your in-box. Instead, you begin with a Hotmail highlights page (it actually lives on Windows Live rather than Hotmail) that grabs the latest information from your social networks, including Facebook and MySpace, as well as your contacts on Windows Live Messenger. (At this point, Twitter and LinkedIn are not available.)

This lets you see updates on Facebook without having to leave Windows Live Hotmail. You'll be able to make comments on those updates, and they'll appear on Facebook, again without leaving Hotmail. You can even view videos posted on Facebook. You can't, though, post to your Facebook page.

If more services are added (including the ability to post to your Facebook page), Windows Live Hotmail could become a central point for your communication on social-networking sites.

Hotmail integrates with social-networking sites in another very important way as well: It includes your contacts from those sites in your Hotmail contacts list. That way, you don't need to go to multiple places to find contact information; it's all right in Hotmail. A nice touch is that it categories your contacts for you as well, showing you contacts from Facebook, Messenger and so on. You can also view them all together, uncategorised.

When you view a contact from a social-networking site, you'll see his contact information and can also jump directly to his page on, say, Facebook. We found one aspect of the way that Windows Live Hotmail integrates with social-networking sites confusing, though. When we were in Hotmail and were looking at a contact who is one of our Facebook friends, there was a message "You're not friends with Barbara. Add as friend." In fact, what it was doing was showing that we weren't friends with that contact on Windows Live Messenger - but it didn't specifically mention Live Messenger in the message.

Windows Live Hotmail: Integration with Outlook

The newest version of Windows Live Hotmail integrates with Outlook through the recently updated Microsoft Outlook Hotmail Connector. That's the good news.

The bad news is that all of Windows Live Hotmail's new features aren't carried over to Outlook. For example, the only Hotmail contacts you'll be able to see in Outlook will be those native to Hotmail itself - you won't be able to view contacts from social-networking sites such as Facebook. And while you can see your Hotmail email in Outlook, you can't use the Conversation View for it, which is odd, considering that Outlook 2010 has its own Conversation View. Perhaps in time integration will improve.

Windows Live Hotmail: Other extras

There are a lot of other very nice extras in this version of Windows Live Hotmail, including integration with the newly released Office web Apps. When you're sent an Office document, you can save it to Skydrive - Microsoft's free online storage service - and from there open it in Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps, which is Microsoft's free online version of Microsoft Office 2010.

If you need heavier editing capabilities than are provided in Office Web Apps, you can then open the document in Office on your PC, although you'll need to be using Internet Explorer to do that. You can then save it back to Skydrive.

Speaking of attachments, you can send whopper-sized attachments in the new version of Hotmail if you want - up 10GB in one message.

The way Hotmail works on mobile devices has also been improved. People who work in enterprises that use Exchange ActiveSync will be able to synchronise email between their smartphones and the web. Hotmail apps are available for BlackBerry and Symbian-based Nokia phones. (We weren't able to confirm whether apps for other mobile devices, such as the iPhone, are in the works.)

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