Windows Live Hotmail 2011
Hotmail remains the most popular Web-based e-mail service on earth, with Yahoo Mail (Free, 4 stars) leading in the U.S. and Gmail nipping at the heels of both, according to numbers from Hitwise and Compete. But Microsoft isn’t resting on its laurels: Windows Live Hotmail 2011 adds a number of big changes aimed at giving the e-mail service several new competitive edges. This Hotmail version offers new ways to share and view content like photos and video within the inbox, connect with social networks, and clean out the clutter. It’s a slick, fast e-mail solution that does a great job of keeping your inbox free from junk.
Hotmail’s new design is somewhere in between that of Yahoo Mail’s rich application, complete with buttons and resizable columns, and Gmail’s minimalist aesthetic. It’s easy-on-the-eyes, and simple to navigate, but I do miss the ability to sort by column heads, as you
Hotmail now offers a Conversation view similar to Gmail’s. Hotmail’s implementation of conversation view is easier to grok—old message headers in the thread clearly appear below the latest, and can be expanded and collapsed with a mouse click.
Like Gmail, too the inbox updates automatically without the need to hit “Refresh.” Hotmail adds a helpful Quick Views feature, which lets you view only emails containing photos, Office docs, shipping dates, or messages you’ve flagged. It beats having to search through your inbox. To use the new Active View photo, video, and Office doc viewing features, I had to install Silverlight, Microsoft’s lightweight Flash-like plugin. When I clicked the Office docs icon, the doc was saved to my SkyDrive. From here, I viewed and edited the document in the new Office Web apps—pretty slick. I also could watch YouTube, Hulu, Justin.tv, and DailyMotion clips right in my inbox with Active View. Photo slideshows also looked good, created on the fly from attached photo’s I’d recieved. Yahoo offers video viewing, but only of YouTube, while Gmail offers no similar conveniences.
You can add your own Hotmail folders more easily than in Gmail, but not more easily than in Yahoo Mail. Like Apple’s MobileMe mail, Hotmail lets you add nested subfolders. It also offers drag-and-drop e-mails from the inbox right onto any of your folders—try that in Gmail! New view choices grace the top of Hotmail’s inbox: All, Unread, From contacts, Social Updates, From Groups, and Everything Else. You can collapse the last three if they’re not useful to you, but these options give you one way to focus on particular categories of e-mail. They beat the previous version’s simple sorting options.
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