I received an email invitation to join the beta test of Windows Live Mail (the pending overhaul of Microsoft’s Hotmail service) today. Having poked around a bit, it looks like my outside-looking-in impression may be correct- it looks like the easy winner in the three horse race for online email domination. Of course since, unlike Gmail and Windows Live Mail, I have not wrangled a Yahoo! Mail beta invitation, I can’t really compare all of them. Enough whining- here are my impressions.
1) It looks a lot like Outlook, which I and a zillion other people use for our email. This familiarity will give it a head start in getting people to use it over the other less familiar applications.
2) In addition to the usual email folders along the left side of the window, there are tabs for Calendar, Contact and Today at the top- again similar to Outlook (though in Outlook these tabs are at the bottom left of the window below the email folders). The Calendar tab doesn’t work in my account, but this is a beta version so that’s not unexpected. The Contacts tab works, though I could find no import feature to import my contacts from my desktop Outlook application. That may be a feature reserved for the paid upgrade version (Outlook Live)- I don’t know. The Today tab shows links to a tutorial and a feedback page. In sum, the look and feel is an improvement over Hotmail and more intuitive than Gmail’s conversational structure.
3) You can add topical folders to store mail by clicking a link at the bottom of the standard email folders. I didn’t see a way to create rules to direct email into chosen folders, but that may be coming.
The issue in my mind is how many features will be added to this free version and how many will be held back for the paid upgrade. Clearly, it’s a work in progress, but add some features (RSS functionality, perhaps) and Windows Live Mail will replace Hotmail, its predecessor, as my web based email of choice.
I’m going to use Live Mail and Gmail regularly over the next few weeks and I’ll report my impressions from time to time.