These are exciting times to be working on an email product. This is perhaps surprising, given that email has been with us since the very first days of the Internet. It is one of the most ubiquitous and well understood communication technologies, right up there with the telephone and the (snail mail) postal service. One could be forgiven for assuming that all the problems inherent in this communication method have been solved already.

Yet email has been evolving to meet our growing communications needs since day one, and the innovation continues apace. Just as we've been working hard on Hotmail improvements (see Mike’s post), we also continue to invest heavily in our client email program Windows Live Mail, part of our Windows Live Essentials suite of products.

Windows Live Mail

Windows Live Mail was formerly known as just Windows Mail, and even more formerly known as Outlook Express (…yep, we just love renaming things to keep you on your toes). It’s a very capable email application that can connect to most web-based email accounts including Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, and many others. It also includes a full-featured calendar that syncs with

Windows Live Mail
Yes, people still use email applications

Recently, web email has undergone a lot of innovation. Web email properties like Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, and Outlook Web Access have rapidly expanded their features and capabilities to the point where they've become the primary way that many users connect to their email.

Yet PC-based applications like Microsoft Office Outlook and our own Windows Live Mail are still widely used, and provide a set of distinct advantages that still resonate with users. Email remains the second most common activity on a new PC – right behind surfing the web. In fact, our research tells us that 70% of Windows users expect to get an email program on their new PC.

So, what draws all those people to prefer email applications to web-based mail?

The power of offline access

Reading and composing mail offline is a fairly common activity for laptop and mobile users. It’s super critical to be able to look up something in your mail from wherever you are, without having to hunt down a Wi-Fi hotspot or Ethernet jack. Applications like Outlook and Windows Live Mail allow you to read, compose, and manage your mail and calendar locally, and then sync everything back up the next time you reconnect.

Perhaps surprisingly, using an e-mail application can be preferable even for a fully-connected desktop PC. This is because you get a dedicated window for your email that isn’t sharing a frame with your browser. The window has its own icon in the Windows taskbar, it notifies you whenever new mail arrives, and your data is saved locally and not subject to network glitches, etc. My wife has been a Hotmail user for years but had never tried Windows Live Mail. Two years ago, I set up Windows Live Mail for her on her desktop PC, and she’s never gone back. She much prefers it to visiting the Hotmail website, and keeps Windows Live Mail running all day.

The power of local processing

Email applications still have an edge when composing long email messages. If you use an application like Windows Live Mail, you get used to simple things like rich formatting options, auto-saved drafts, on-the-fly spell checking, and the ability to paste images into a message, inline with your text.

Photos are especially important— the vast majority of photos are still exchanged via email. Windows Live Mail offers photo email – instead of attaching large photos directly to your message, which can take up a lot of bandwidth when sending, and may even bounce back, you can instead compose a photo email, which automatically uploads your photos to SkyDrive, and attaches smaller thumbnail images to your message. When your friend receives your photo email, they can click on a thumbnail photo, and are taken to a rich web photo viewer, where they can enjoy a full screen slide show, add comments, and download the images they want.

Mail applications are also better at managing large amounts of email. They can use more powerful local views that scroll faster and typically work more efficiently than they do in web-based mail. For example, you can easily select all the mail in a huge folder in Windows Live Mail and move it wherever you want, without having to select a bunch of check boxes or having to click through multiple pages. What's more, with an installed email program, you get the added power of your Windows desktop: you can do things like search your email directly from the Windows Start menu, or drag content from one email message to another.

Managing all your accounts in one place

Today, the average PC user manages 3 email accounts. Windows Live Mail helps you connect to all your email accounts and manage them in one place. Even if you don't have a Hotmail account, you can still use Windows Live Mail to check Gmail and other webmail services. You can even reply to mail sent to one account from another one, and drag messages from one account to another.

So what’s next?

For our upcoming release of Windows Live Mail, we have a great set of features planned that deepen all of these key experiences across the board. I’m really itching to share more details with you, and to get the beta out where you all can try things out.

Our focus in the new release is on making it much easier for people to manage large volumes of email, send photos in a beautifully composed photo email messages, and organize their time with the calendar. You'll also see Windows Live Mail integrated more seamlessly with Windows and the rest of the Windows Live Essentials. And the interface is evolving to look and work much more like other email clients that you may be familiar with: Outlook and Outlook Express. Stay tuned for more as we gear up for the beta!

Piero Sierra
Group Program Manager
Windows Live Messenger and Mail