For years Microsoft has offered a free email client with Microsoft Windows, once called Microsoft Exchange in Windows 95, then Outlook Express in later versions, the program was updated as Windows Mail with the release of Vista. Since disbanding from the operating system, versions called Windows Live Mail Desktop were released as alternatives to what was included in Vista with more modern functionality such as RSS Feed support and integrated Calendar and Contacts. I have been using Windows Live Mail 14 on Windows 7 since the pre-beta build. My experiences so far have been more of a wanting for the old Windows Mail at times, although the suite offers a standard set of email tools and some unique features that I would have loved to see in Windows Mail.
Adding and configuring your email account in Windows Live Mail (click to enlarge)
Launching Windows Live Mail for the first time, you are presented with the Add an Email Account Wizard, which is very simple and straightforward. Just enter your personal information, click next and Finish, Mail starts downloading your messages right away if you choose to do so. The Windows Live Mail interface I must say is more aesthetically attractive compared to its predecessor, featuring a much lighter palette and degree of customization options, such as the ability to choose a colour scheme which is synergistic with Windows Live services such as Hotmail. Mail focuses on disabling certain functions it seems for the sake of form over function (we’ll get into that more as we go along).
The Command Bar features text only buttons that are also updated to look the same as Windows 7 Explorer Command Bar which shows the close ‘aesthetic’ relationship between the two. You can still invoke the classic drop down menus by pressing ALT on your keyboard. Common options such as New, Reply, Forward, Delete, and Junk are all there with the addition of new ones such as Add to Calendar and Sign in to Windows Live button to gain immediate access to additional services through your account. Various parts of the interface are setup to look more like Microsoft Office Outlook, with a Task pane on the extreme left, Messages in the middle and a viewing Pane on the extreme right. The Task Pane is divided in to five categories: Mail, Calendar, Contacts, RSS Feeds and Newsgroups.
Live Mail 2009 interface
The Mail pane is made up of different folders for viewing, sending and receiving your messages. The Quick Views folders displays quick access to messages you might not have gotten the chance to look at in all your accounts aggregating them into one location, you can even filter messages according to Contacts (very nice option). Unread RSS Feeds can also be managed and viewed from here too. If you have an account setup in Windows Live Mail (which I am sure you would have), you get access to your traditional Mail inbox folders. I have my Hotmail account setup and I have access to all my messages like I use to in Outlook Express or if I were running Microsoft Outlook with the Outlook Connector. Outlook Express users in particular can rejoice since Hotmail HTTP Support ended with Outlook Express when Microsoft discontinued Web DAV support in 2005. Only Premium subscribers to Windows Live Plus were able to use the HTTP functionality of Hotmail under Windows Mail in Vista. In addition to HTTP support, Mail also supports the POP3 (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) messaging standards that users expect. Another nice addition for Windows Live Mail users is support for other Web Mail services such as Google’s Gmail and Yahoo!’s Mail. Unfortunately when I tried to setup my Yahoo! Mail account I got the following message:
“You must have Yahoo Mail Plus to use this e-mail client with your Yahoo Account. Please go to the Yahoo site to find out how to become a Yahoo Mail Plus User. Http://mailplus.mail.yahoo.com”
Live Mail features rich options for sending photos by email (click to enlarge)
Photo Mail – Integration Across Windows Live Essentials
Emailing photos is just a click away, I selected 3 images from my Live Photo Gallery library and immediately a Windows Live Mail window popped up. The ‘Attach files’ dialog is now handled by Live Mail, such as resolution and size; images sent can be reduced to 512 K or the highest 5 MB for best quality. You can add photo effects such as a frame, colour border and even choose how your photos are presented to the recipient in different layouts.
In Windows Live Mail 12, Microsoft introduced Storage Folders which is a repository for email, folders created by the user, accounts, newsgroup and other data. It’s very handy for backup purposes when you are transferring your messages to another computer. There really is no change in this update except being visible in the Mail Pane itself.
Integrated Calendar (click to enlarge)
Windows Vista included its own built in calendaring application, which I kind of liked, it was something most users who install Windows with basic needs could easily benefit from to manage their schedules. Featuring options available for publishing and subscribing to .ics calendars, which includes settings for controlling how often it gets updated with new event dates, were some nice highlights. Windows Calendar although capable lacked better integration with Windows Mail apart from a link to launch it. With Windows Live Mail, Microsoft has melded the two together and it looks like a success! The Calendar interface is superbly beautiful and features much of the standard functionality of Windows Calendar. The Navigation Pane displays quick access to a ‘Date’ calendar with options for creating new calendars and groups. Calendars interface is customizable to an extent; you can view your information by Day, Work Week, Week and month. For persons who subscribed to .ICS calendars, that direct functionality is not available in the UI itself, but you can still access them by logging into http://calendar.live.com, click ‘Subscribe’ > Import from an .ics file. When you start Windows Mail from then on, your Calendar will automatically be synced. There still is no support for Hotmail’s Calendar, but I hope that gets updated as soon as possible.
Windows Live Mail Contacts interface
To access your contact data, you must be signed into Windows Live (Windows Live ID required), this allows you to utilize the same Contact List available in your Hotmail Contacts to see who is online and sync with your Windows Live Calendar. The interface integrates heavily with your Windows Live Messenger contact list, so, dependency on it for me is not recommended, since I don’t have my entire address list stored in there, a unified data store would really come in handy here. Windows Live Contacts supports all of the standard features you would find in Windows Contacts explorer such as creating Groups, organization, sharing and printing. You can import your contact database from a number of formats including .WAB, .VCF, Outlook Address Book and .CSV, it supports exporting in .VCF and .CSV. The only drawback, it’s not integrated into the Windows Live Mail interface, opening a separate window instead. Also, it would have been nice to have synchronization between the Windows Contacts and Windows Live Contacts list instead of keeping two separate databases.
Subscribed Feeds can also be viewed and managed in Live Mail 2009
Feeds and Newsgroups
One of the hit features over the past few years is Really Simple Syndication. RSS allows a user to subscribe to their favourite Website’s and receive notifications of updates to those subscribed sites without the need to individually browse each to check for new information. Windows Live Mail makes managing those subscriptions easier with its familiar email oriented approach. Feeds you subscribe to through Internet Explorer are automatically synced and updated in Live Mail. Newsgroups are pretty much the same as previous versions of Microsoft Mail clients.
Windows Live Mail is robust and very easy to use. However, I miss functionality like Send All which ensured that Messages were sent if you had a connection issue. What I notice happens is, when my messages are not sent off immediately and I open the Drafts folder and open the unsent email or newsgroup post, it doesn’t always start sending right away. I will at times have to close Live Mail, reopen the program and the unsent messages will begin sending again (but not always). Also, there seems to be no option to turn off ‘Check for New Mail’, I am on a slow connection and I notice if I am not in Mail and I start doing some surfing it will slow down as Live Mail is checking for email in the background. I just want to check for email if I want to. Live Mail works quite well on Windows 7, although there could be more integration with the OS similar to Live Messenger. I hope in a future update I will see a Jump List update for New Message, Events and add contact type contextual options. Overall, it’s a strong release and will definitely be an asset for Windows 7 users who depend on Windows Mail.