Windows Live Mail has been released in nearly final form for Windows XP and Vista. It’s an important step forward but only if you’re able to keep Microsoft’s e-mail programs straight.

These programs run on your computer:

  • Microsoft Outlook – full-featured mail/calendar/address book program sold as part of Microsoft Office
  • Outlook Express – streamlined mail program included with Windows XP
  • Windows Mail – updated version of Outlook Express included with Windows Vista
  • Windows Live Mail – the brand new mail software for Windows XP & Vista; when installed, it replaces Outlook Express and Windows Mail

These e-mail services run online in Internet Explorer:

  • Hotmail – Microsoft’s longtime free webmail client
  • Windows Live Hotmail – the new name for Hotmail, now with an optional new interface that closely resembles the various desktop programs

Windows Live Mail was released a few days ago. Here’s one of the announcements, and here’s where you can download it.

It does one important new thing – such a wonderful trick that it may change the way some of you handle your mail. Windows Live Mail automatically syncs with Windows Live Hotmail.

  • While you’re at your computer, you can use Windows Live Mail – a fast, dedicated program with none of the disadvantages of webmail. Right-clicking always does something helpful and you’ll never accidentally browse to a different page in the middle of checking your mail.
  • While you’re away, you can log in to Windows Live Hotmail from any computer and see exactly the same things in the mail folders and in the address book.

If you send a message from your desk, the message will be in Sent Items when you check Hotmail online. If you update an e-mail address on Hotmail, the new address will quickly be in your desktop address book.

The Windows Live Hotmail team has promised a connector to Microsoft Outlook that will sync mail, contacts and calendar items. No word yet on when to expect that connector, although it should be soon. But many of you don’t need the full version of Outlook (and it’s no longer included with the inexpensive Student version of Microsoft Office 2007). Windows Live Mail is a very nice mail program, with up-to-date security features and built-in spam filtering, just perfect for many people.

If you’ve been using another webmail service and wishing it was better, or using Outlook Express and wishing you could check your mail when you’re away from your computer, think about whether you can change to a Hotmail address. This combination makes it worthwhile.

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