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It's not uncommon to want to move your email access from an old to a new computer. Web mail is easy, but there are things to watch for.

I am selling a computer and I need to delete our Hotmail accounts from it. We have a laptop we need to activate them on. How do we do this?

This surprisingly common question is an example of a misunderstanding of exactly just how services like Hotmail work.

In short: it's not on your computer.

But there are still things you'll want to erase before selling it.

Hotmail (and Yahoo and GMail and a boatload of other services) are called "web services" because they live on the web, out on the internet. In other words, they're not installed on your computer, so there's nothing to be removed from your computer when you decide it's time for a new one.

"What you need to do when selling or giving away any computer is simple: erase the entire hard drive completely."

Or is there?

There's certainly nothing to be uninstalled, like you would a program that's been installed on your computer. But there are important traces of having used Hotmail that you'll want to erase.

For example, if when you login to Hotmail you ask it to "remember your password", that is stored on your computer by your web browser (not directly by Hotmail). If when you come to the sign-in page certain fields like your user name are already filled in for you, that too is something that's been remembered for you by the web browser you use.

And of course if you never have to actually login to Hotmail because you've configured things to automatically log you in, that too is information that's being kept on your behalf by your browser.

Now, there are two steps that come to mind rather quickly:

  • Logout of Hotmail, and uncheck all the "save me", "remember me" options you can. (You may need to log back in and then out for the settings to "take".)

  • Use your browser's security features to clear all saved passwords, form fields, the cache and any additional information.

The problem is when you're selling or giving away your computer that's not enough. That's not even close to enough.

What you need to do when selling or giving away any computer is simple: erase the entire hard drive completely. That'll get rid of any and all saved passwords and account names, as well as anything else you didn't remember to remove from the disk before giving it away. DBAN is one such program that will do this, and it'll do it in a secure way such that the data cannot be recovered.

Now, about "activating" your Hotmail on another machine...

That's simple, really: just go to that machine, fire up a browser, go to http://hotmail.com and login.

That's all.

On any computer, anytime, anywhere.

The only concern/catch is to pay attention to those "save my password", and "login me in automatically" types of settings to make sure that things are being saved and remembered only when it's safe, and only when you really want them to be.

(And as a reminder once again, while I've used Hotmail as my example throughout, this all applies to any web-based service.)

Article C3760 - June 12, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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5 Comments
Ziggie
June 12, 2009 6:07 PM

also watch out for the "remember my password" popups that the browser will show you. If you're on a public computer, you never want to hit those.

David
June 16, 2009 3:44 PM

Don't forget, there's now POP3 access on Hotmail and Live, so they can be set up on your mail client.
Server is the same for both my "Hotmail.co.uk" and "Live.com" accounts:
pop3.live.com,
port 995, SSL

Use your e-mail address for user-name.
Gmail uses the same settings.

PC Resolver
June 17, 2009 1:39 AM

A little know feature of Firefox is that the passwords it remembers are available after a couple of clicks. Great if you've forgotten your passwords but not good news if you've given your computer to someone without erasing it according to Leo's instructions or even just left it unattended!
This also applies to anyone who uses your computer with or without your permission.
This password list is unprotcted but you can add a password to it quite easily. See: http://www.pcresolver.es/Newsletters/itnewsdecember2008.php for instructions.
I don't know about IE. I couldn't find a similar option.

Dan Barron
June 17, 2009 7:13 AM

I would also suggest as a matter of course that you simply change your passwords on all web services you use: mail, banking, bill pay, shopping, etc.

wmsayo
January 1, 2011 7:13 AM

Windows LIVE is on your hard drive - that's why it's used in place of Outlook or Outlook Express. I, too, am selling my computer and cannot find any information on changing my live account short of killing the account (which I do not want to do). I know I can delete each message, folder etc. from my hard drive (hassle but do-able), but I'm sure the buyer wants their own LIVE account.

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