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Microsoft has created a lot of confusion with how it names its mail products. Add the transition from MSN to Windows Live branding and it gets worse.
What's the difference between Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Hotmail and MSN Hotmail? I keep getting them confused. And aren't some of them the same thing?
You're confused? You and the rest of the world.
And no, with another case brilliant naming, all four of those things are all quite different.
I wish Microsoft would have learned from the mess that resulted from all the different names for something called messenger or the two unrelated email programs with the word Outlook in their name, but no. Here we are. Again.
Windows Mail is a mail program that's included with Windows Vista. It replaces Outlook Express which came with previous versions of Windows, and it has a pretty similar feature set. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that it really is Outlook Express but with another name and a few tweaks for Vista. I know of no way to get Windows Mail other than by installing Vista.
Windows Live Mail is another, different, mail program. This one is still in Beta at this writing. Windows Live Mail confuses me for several reasons: it's also a replacement for Outlook Express, it's slightly more full featured than Windows Mail, and it's a free download that also works on Windows XP. Basically it does more than Windows Mail, above, so why does Windows Mail exist at all? I'm certainly at a loss to explain it. Anyway, as I said it is the replacement for Outlook Express. In fact, so much so that you can no longer even find an official download of Outlook Express (which was in the Internet Explorer download), but you can most certainly download Windows Live Mail.
Windows Live Hotmail is unrelated to anything I've talked about so far. Windows Live Hotmail is Microsoft's free web-based email service. Visit http://mail.live.com and what you're really visiting is Windows Live Hotmail. It's designed to be accessed via the web, meaning no program is used or needed, and you can access it from any machine on the internet using just a web browser. And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out my concerns about relying on free email services.
MSN Hotmail is nothing more, or less, than the previous version of Windows Live Hotmail. The confusion exists because the transition from MSN Hotmail to Windows Live Hotmail was done slowly over time. That means that for a while both were available at the same time. The upgrade from MSN Hotmail to Windows Live Hotmail appears to be mandatory (there's no going back), and at this writing I believe it's complete.
Those are the names. Unfortunately there are more issues beyond the naming that add to the confusion:
for a period, Windows Live Hotmail users could switch back to MSN Hotmail. This is no longer available.
Windows Live Mail (program) will allow you to download your Windows Live Hotmail (web mail). Windows Mail does not.
The premium (for pay) version of Windows Live Hotmail apparently has additional capabilities that the free version does not, including POP3/SMTP access, which would allow it to be downloaded into any mail program including Windows Mail.
Windows Live Messenger is a whole 'nother source of confusion.
It's frustrating. I know naming products is difficult, I've been there. But to purposely end up with such a confusing mess of product names ... well, it's really unfortunate and leads to a lot of confusion.
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