Microsoft has sent out a new test version of Windows Live Mail, part of the software maker’s push to introduce Web-based counterparts to desktop products.
The beta version, sent out to testers this week, goes out under the banner of “Windows Live,” launched earlier month. However, it is actually part of a longtime effort to revamp Hotmail, Microsoft’s current free, Web-based e-mail service.
Microsoft is building Windows Live Mail from scratch, keeping Hotmail and its 215 million active users on a separate system, Brooke Richardson, a lead product manager in Microsoft’s MSN division, said. The goal in rebuilding the service from the ground up is to improve performance and enable desktop-like e-mail features found in its Outlook program. An emerging programming technology known as AJAX is central to the effort, she said.
The Windows Live package aims to provide Internet-based personal tools such blogging and instant messaging software, as well as the e-mail service. Microsoft expects the products to be supported by advertising, as it girds to take on Web giants such as Google and Yahoo.
Most people will have to wait until next year for the new service while Microsoft fine-tunes it. The software maker has invited thousands of people test the beta version since July and plans to open up testing to millions of people over the next few months, Richardson said.
The new e-mail test version includes nearly a dozen new features. Among them is a spell-check tool that underlines errors as people compose messages and suggests alternate spellings when they right-click on the word.
The company has also modified security features to call more attention to e-mails that may be related to a “phishing” identity theft scam. The program rates all incoming messages using three safety levels: “known sender,” “unknown sender” or “unsafe.” It calls special attention to “unsafe” e-mails.
The new release also includes a faster e-mail search engine that looks through the body of each message and checks the subject and address lines. In addition, the in-box and contact list includes a scroll feature, allowing people to view more messages and entries in a single page view.
Windows Live Mail also offers users 2 gigabytes of free storage compared with the 250 megabytes that’s available for free with Hotmail, Richardson said. And Windows Live Mail users can keep their Hotmail.com e-mail addresses. To request access to the test version of the new service, visit Ideas.live.com.