If you use the Internet for work or play, you're used to moving from application to application as needed. Maybe you use an e-mail program to send messages, and then switch to an instant-messaging program or a Web browser to view a friend's blog or post a new photo to your own page on a social-networking site.
Moving from program to program can be a headache, however, and do you know if you're really keeping up with the latest Web services and technology out there?
One of the latest pushes among leading software companies is finding ways to seamlessly integrate different programs, allowing users to move easily from one application to another as they create, share and store information. Windows Live is Microsoft's integrated suite of services and programs.
Windows Live combines applications such as e-mail, instant messaging and word processing with online services such as file sharing, blogs and off-site file storage. Users access some of these services online while downloading others to their hard drives. The applications and services are free of charge.
E-mail is one of the most popular applications in Internet use and Windows Live support several programs including MSN Hotmail and Windows Live Mail, which allows you to download mail from several other accounts.
In this article, we'll discuss the e-mail functions included in Windows Live. We'll look at the history of Windows Live and its e-mail functions, the e-mail's special and unique features, how to set up an account and what might be coming in the future.
History of Windows Live
To trace the origins of Windows Live e-mail programs, you have to know the history of Windows Live itself.
Microsoft engineers began working on Windows Live around 2001, as company leaders began pushing for innovations that would give the company more flexibility and long-term advantages [source: CNET News]. Leaders wanted an Internet-based, all-encompassing suite of programs that they could quickly modify and improve through live updates. The move was a dramatic shift for the company, which traditionally focused on prepackaged software and operating systems.
Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates first talked about the Windows Live effort in the fall 2005, announcing the company was entering a new era that would change the face of Web use. The company aimed for both personal and small business users. On May 6, 2007, the company officially announced Windows Live Hotmail would replace MSN Hotmail in a global launch available in 36 languages.
The first version of the Windows Live effort took many existing products such as Hotmail and Messenger and repackaged and branded them. Since the Windows Live launch, however, the company has continued adding new products and updates to the suite.
The service helps the company better understand how customers use its products and the Web in general, allowing it to stay ahead of demand as competition grows. Company officials said in the same article that their goal is continuously updating products and launching new ones to meet the evolving demands of Web users. Many of the products are aimed at the general public that's familiar with basic software programs. Another portion, however, is aimed at the more computer-savvy user and even encourages them to explore innovative ways to further evolve the Windows Live package.
Microsoft uses a development method that emphasizes early public feedback on updates and new products. Often, it'll make experimental or "beta" versions of new products available for download, encouraging users to try and critique their performance.
Although the Internet-based services in Windows Live are free, the system includes higher levels of function that are available for a subscription price. The approach also provides advertising opportunities that potentially provide revenue for the company. Typically, the lowest level of service is available free of charge and supported by advertisements while the better versions are subscription-based.
On the next page, we'll talk about some of the unique features found in the Windows Live e-mail application.
Windows Live E-mail Unique Features
Hotmail, which is one of the e-mail programs supported by Windows Live, is certainly not new, but engineers are constantly adding new and unique features to the venerable program.
To start with, the new Hotmail has 5 gigabytes of storage for users, which is a large amount for the casual user. To put 5 gigabytes in perspective, it can store three, two-hour movies or about 1,000 MP3 files.
The new design also allows users to choose among several layouts, colors and toolbars. The options allow users to select the setup that makes the most sense to them and provides the most convenience to their e-mail habits. Longtime users of Hotmail can use the familiar Classic look, making it easier to transition to the newer version. It's easy to switch views allowing users to access advanced features. The overall set up resembles Microsoft Outlook, another popular e-mail program.
Other features include:
- Reading panes that allow quick e-mail views and image blockers to guard against spammers
- Drag-and-drop action to help organize e-mails
- Right-clicking, which allows users to quickly reply, delete, print or manage folders
- Automatic address completion, which quickly fills in an address based on the first few keystrokes by a user
- Mobility, which allows users to access their e-mail using a Web-enabled mobile phone, smartphone or PDA
- Customized filters, spell check and calendar functions
Security isn't only better on the new Windows Live Hotmail, it's easier to use. Color icons make it simple to quickly determine whether an e-mail is suspicious. The user can wipe out junk mail with a single click. The program also contains effective anti-virus and spyware features that allow users to keep their computer clear of such troublesome issues. The overall look, with a preview window and reading pane, strongly resembles Outlook, including that program's drag-and-drop features and organization.
If you don't wish to download mail to your computer, you can use Windows Live Mail to visit your various mailboxes around the Web. If you're familiar with Microsoft Outlook Express, then Windows Live Mail will be a snap. It's known as a simple, cleanly designed e-mail program. It also offers some nice higher-end features, such as the ability to send photo e-mail. Like its Hotmail companion, Windows Live Mail allows you to customize your screen and lay out the program to your liking.
Windows Live Mail allows you to access multiple accounts easily, including Hotmail, Yahoo Mail premium accounts, Google's Gmail and others. You also can open a Windows Live Messenger account and chat with your messaging buddies from the convenience of your Windows Live Mail inbox. The program also makes it easy to check your friend's social networking pages on Windows Live Spaces blogs. It also allows you to store e-mail directly on your computer, which can aid long-term storage.
Windows Live Mail is spam protected and includes anti-virus filters that you can apply to multiple e-mail accounts. It also has visual warnings that warn if an e-mail message appears suspicious. If you see one, the user has the option to click "Delete and Block," which will take care of that e-mail and block any other e-mails from that address.
Find out how to set up and use a Windows Live e-mail account on the next page.
Using Windows Live E-mail
Setting up a Windows Live e-mail account is fast and easy. First, you need to visit a login site, such as http://www.windowslive.com/. Once there, you can follow the simple instructions and prompts to use the entire Windows Live suite, including e-mail.
The first thing you'll need to do is get yourself a Windows Live ID. It's possible you already have one, especially if you have a Hotmail or Messenger account. Other Microsoft programs also require you to sign up for an ID. Often, your ID is simply your e-mail and a password.
To sign up, you'll need to enter some basic biographical information, choose a Windows Live ID, type and retype a password of your choosing and complete a screen verification -- that procedure in which you have to retype the weirdly shaped numbers and letters on the screen. Once you're signed up, you'll be directed to home.live.com where you can select from the array of Windows Live services, including Hotmail.
At this point, you can enter your new e-mail account. The first thing you might want to do is import your contacts. This is easy if you're using Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express. Simply click on the area for importing contacts, download, run the wizard and follow the prompts.
If you click under "Options," you'll find instructions on how to manage your account by editing your personal information, sending and receiving e-mail from other accounts, forwarding messages and setting up automated replies, for times when you're unavailable. You'll also see information on managing junk e-mail, customizing your mailbox such as choosing a theme or language and customizing the contacts you imported.
To sign up for Windows Live Mail, you'll need to download it. (You'll also have the option of downloading several other Windows Live programs at that time). Once downloaded, you can select any previously existing e-mail account of yours to access using the your ID (e-mail account name) and password. You also can add an e-mail account at any time by clicking on "Add e-mail account" and filling in the required information.
You'll notice that Windows Live Mail is organized very similarly to your Hotmail or Outlook screens. Clicking on the "Show menu" icon (located on the upper right side of the main window in the initial set-up) will allow you to select options for customizing your mailbox, such as layout, toolbar and menus.
Future of Windows Live e-mail
Microsoft envisioned the Windows Live as a suite of programs it could continually update. Already, engineers have added dozens of features and improvements to the programs. Often, such improvements are prompted by users, some of whom sign up to provide input and allow the company to monitor their software use to look for ways to improve it. Under this model, it seems certain Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Hotmail will evolve.
A major trend in electronic communications revolves around unifying messaging systems, placing the array of tools such as e-mail, voice-mail and messaging under one umbrella for easier use. With its philosophy already emphasizing integration and continual updates, it's possible Windows Live e-mail systems will lead the way in this arena.
For more information about Windows Live e-mail and related topics, check out the links on the next page.