Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
We'll look at various Hotmail problems and suggestions to resolve them.
I continue to receive regular reports of people having trouble connecting to, logging into, or reading their Hotmail email. The problems are as varied as the symptoms. But there is one thing that's consistent in most all of the reports ...
I've collected here a number of things to help try to resolve the assorted problems you may be experiencing.
Scan and Scan Again: We'll start with the obvious stuff, that I hope you're doing already. Accessing Hotmail, as well as many other sites, can definitely be affected in many different ways by both viruses and spyware. Thus it's important that you run an up to date virus scan and spyware scan.
Check hosts: One of the common targets of malware is the "hosts" file. Normally found in C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc, open it in notepad. If there's a line referencing "hotmail.com", or "passport.com", then the file has most likely been altered by malware of some sort. The safest thing to do if that's the case is to simply rename the file to something else. You can read more about the hosts file in my article "Is there a way to block certain URL's in IE?".
Though many might argue the point, IE itself isn't a problem. However various readers have reported a couple of things that helped in some cases.
Reinstall or repair Internet Explorer: On Windows XP, you can try running the System File Checker. Even on Windows XP, and on all other versions of Windows, the best "repair" is really a reinstall. Just visit Microsoft's Internet Explorer site and download the latest version.
Switch to a different browser: Several people have reported that switching to Firefox or Netscape resolved their issues accessing Hotmail.
Lower Security: While I can't say that I really recommend it, some users have reported that reducing the security on their internet zone in Internet Explorer to medium-low resolves some issues. I note that Internet Explorer itself makes this difficult (no doubt on purpose, as you are increasing the risk of viruses and other malware). Going to Tools, Internet Options Security, Custom Level, Reset to, and setting Medium-low should do the trick.
HTTP Version: Some folks have reported that altering the version of HTML that IE uses helps resolve their issue. In IE: Tools, Internet Options, Advanced, locate the entry HTTP 1.1 settings and uncheck Use HTTP 1.1. You may have to exit and reload IE for the change to take effect.
Make sure that Cookies are enabled: Hotmail apparently requires that cookies be enabled in order to get past the "match the picture" security check. So:
Open the firewall: It's also important that your firewall not block cookies, and some do. You'll have to refer to the documentation for your firewall, but several people have reported that resolving this allows them to progress past the "match the picture" stage. Note that this probably does not apply if you're using a router for your firewall, or if you are using the Windows XP embedded firewall. A quick test would be to turn off your firewall and try accessing Hotmail, but I would definitely not leave your firewall turned off.
Sometimes networks and networking can get confused, and block, or misroute, access to sites.
Reboot and Reboot: I'll assume you already have rebooted your PC, but make sure to reboot your modem (power off and back on again), and your router, if you have either. I know I have gotten my own router into a state where its behavior was erratic, and a quick reboot resolved several issues.
Flush DNS: A reboot does this as well, but a quicker way to make sure that your computer is using the most current DNS information is to open a command shell, and enter the following command:
This command might not be available on all versions of Windows, so you still may want to do that reboot.
Fiddle with Network Settings: I've seen this in a number of discussion groups. It involves altering an obscure network setting called "MTU" or "MaxMTU". Normally that requires a dive deep into the registry, but fortunately there are utilities out there that make this setting a little easier to tweak. I've used TCP Optimizer from SpeedGuide.net. Using that utility, these changes are reported to help:
This type of change does require a reboot to take effect. (The theory, by the way, is that Hotmail made some type of change involving this setting to prevent or avoid Denial of Service attacks. Sadly it seems many users were denied service as a result.)
Try again later: Sometimes Hotmail itself is the problem. We've definitely seen periods of time where Hotmail was simply not working. While Hotmail's notification of such events is quite lacking (as in, pretty much non-existent), because of its high usage any widespread outages are evident to them quite quickly, and you can be certain that they are working on the issue(s) even though you might not hear about it. How long to wait? I'd typically give it a day.
Play with the numbers: When issues aren't wide spread, things get a little trickier. Exactly how Hotmail's load is distributed across the hundreds, if not thousands, of servers they use, is a mystery. If you're able to log in to Hotmail, you'll see addresses like this in your address bar:
The numbers, 18 in this case, will vary, presumably as Hotmail distributes the load by assigning your session to one particular server or set of servers.
In perhaps one of the most obscure ideas I've ever encountered, one reader reported that changing the number (a 2, in his case, to a 23) resolved an issue that was happening after login. Since we have no way of knowing exactly what this really does or why this might work, it's difficult to formally recommend, but you might give it a try if you are able to login and get to an address that looks like that, but then begin having problems. Edit the url directly in the address bar, changing both numbers, and press enter. Who knows? It might work.
If you're used to using your free Hotmail account in Outlook Express, that might be the entire problem. Hotmail support in Outlook Express is being phased out. This Microsoft Knowledgebase Article explains that in order to continue using your Hotmail account in Outlook Express you need to upgrade and purchase an MSN Hotmail Plus account.
Hotmail's web interface remains free.
Check your clock: make sure that the date and time on your computer are correct. Several aspects of your connection to secure sites like Hotmail rely on your clock being accurate.
The best approach is to use the built-in clock synchronization facility. On Windows XP, right click on the clock in your taskbar, select Adjust Date/Time, click on the Time Zone tab and ensure that the time zone is set correctly. Then click on the Internet Time tab, check Automatically synchronize with an Internet time server. Click Update Now to update the time immediately.
Finally, there are two scenarios we need to touch on as well, that can lead to your not being able to log into your own Hotmail account: phishing and theft.
Phishing: If you've received an email purportedly from Hotmail asking you to visit a certain web site and asking you to "re-verify" your account by re-entering all your personal data, you may have fallen victim to a phishing scam. The email was probably not legitimate, and the website that it pointed you at was probably not Hotmail at all. Even if it looked like Hotmail, it may simply have been a hacker attempting to get your personal information. My article Phishing? What's Phishing? has more.
Theft: Is your password easy to guess? Did you "loan" your account to a friend? Did you access your Hotmail in an internet cafe or other public venue? Then it's quite possible that your account has simply been hijacked or stolen. Someone got or guessed your password, and then went off and changed it.
The bad news in both of these scenarios is that you may be SOL (Severely Out of Luck). There are few, if any, resources to help you recover your free email account's password, OR the contents of your address book or mailbox. The only real solution for this scenario is to learn from it, start over, and take steps so that it doesn't happen again.
A special Thank You to all the readers of prior articles here on Ask Leo! who've contributed ideas and solutions for others to experiment and work with, and to everyone who reported back on their success and/or failure. Your ideas and comments are helping everyone.