Windows Live Hotmail got its official launch yesterday, and the announcement included a compelling detail: Microsoft will make a free connector available to sync Windows Live Hotmail with Outlook. This may affect you more than you expect.

A month ago I wrote up some notes about the improvements in the new generation of web mail clients – Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. Yesterday’s announcement adds an important piece that wasn’t clear before. Let me try and explain why this is exciting news for individuals and small businesses without a server.

  • Many of us prefer using Outlook for its rich integration with other programs on our computers, for the well-designed e-mail interface, the junk mail filter, and the full-featured calendar and address book. It has been increasingly frustrating, though, that Outlook is only available when we are sitting at our computers. Remote access solutions are available, hosted Exchange accounts are available, but those are workarounds, not elegant solutions.
  • The webmail clients are available anywhere, and the new generation is quite nice to work with onscreen – but it’s not quite the same as having a program running locally on our own computer, and they don’t integrate as well with other programs or handhelds.

The free Outlook connector for Hotmail is the answer to both needs. When you’re sitting at your computer, you can use Outlook. When you’re away from your computer, you can access the same information – the same mail folders, calendar, contacts and tasks – using Windows Live Hotmail in a web browser. And the key to it is that Outlook syncs with Windows Live Hotmail, so changes in one place are transmitted to the other. Write a message in Outlook, it will turn up in the Sent Mail folder on Windows Live Hotmail. Add an appointment in Hotmail, it will be in the Outlook calendar.

There are three things to bear in mind:

  • This is a brilliant, long-needed improvement to e-mail systems for individuals and small businesses without a server – if it works, meaning it does its job with a minimum of bugs and technical glitches.
  • It won’t be available for a few weeks.
  • And there’s one requirement that’s inherent in the system: for most of you, it will require using a Hotmail e-mail address.

It’s possible to use your existing address but it requires fumbling a bit to forward your existing mail to your new Hotmail address, and your messages will have an odd sender – “FROM: on behalf of”

The Windows Live system can also take over all mail addressed to a domain name (“”), or help set up a new one. That’s a cool idea – families can set up domain names and each person can have their own e-mail address, accessible via webmail or Outlook or both. It’s well-hidden but available under the name Windows Live Custom Domains.

I’ll let you know when the Outlook connector is available!

Addendum: here’s a lengthy review of the new Windows Live Hotmail, and here’s a deeper discussion of the relationship between Outlook, Windows Live Hotmail, and the Windows Live Mail desktop program that will be rolled out soon.

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