Microsoft to halt Hotmail access via Outlook Express

Express users who want to continue accessing Hotmail accounts offline encouraged to download Widnows Live Mail

In the latest death knell for Outlook Express, Microsoft has announced that it will turn off access to its Web-based Hotmail service from the desktop e-mail software at the end of June.

Outlook Express users who want to continue to access their Hotmail accounts offline after June 30 are being encouraged by Microsoft to download its free Windows Live Mail software.

Users will still be able to use Outlook, the big brother of Outlook Express, to read their Hotmail messages offline, but first they may have to upgrade their Outlook Connector synchronization software, according to information posted online by Scott Hammer, a Microsoft e-mail support manager.

Hammer said that Hotmail users also will still be able to use any other desktop e-mail client that is POP3-compliant, such as the open-source Thunderbird software. Macintosh users, meanwhile, can continue using Microsoft's Entourage e-mail client for the Mac to access Hotmail, which is the second-most-popular Web mail service in the U.S. behind Yahoo Mail, according to market research firm HitWise Pty.

Outlook Express first appeared in 1997, when it was bundled with Internet Explorer 4.0. At one point the most popular e-mail software for Windows users, the technology saw its usage start to decline after suffering major virus and malware problems early this decade. Microsoft's last update of the software, Outlook Express 6, was released in August 2004.

In a blog post at Microsoft's e-mail technical support Web site, Hammer said that Microsoft is disabling the DAV e-mail protocol used by Outlook Express to download messages because it is too slow for the larger e-mail in-boxes now in use. For instance, the Windows Live service offers Hotmail users 5GB in-boxes free of charge.

Instead of DAV, Windows Live Mail uses a new technology called DeltaSync to replicate e-mail, contacts and other data between Hotmail and a user's PC. Microsoft says DeltaSync is faster because it only downloads new or modified messages and headers from the Hotmail server, whereas DAV downloaded everything. But, Hammer wrote, "the new protocol unfortunately is not supported by Outlook Express, and support would require too many changes to the Outlook Express software."

Released last November, Windows Live Mail is a successor to both Outlook Express and the Windows Mail client that shipped with Windows Vista. New features above and beyond the improvements that were in Windows Mail include support for RSS feeds, improved photo-sharing and increased integration with other cloud-based Windows Live online services.

This reporter's main trepidation about moving to Windows Live Mail was how well it would import my existing Outlook Express messages and contacts. The experience was fine, though: after setup, Windows Live Mail automatically searched for and found the right folders. Importing more than 10,000 e-mails took about 15 minutes.

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