In features like Office and social media integration, photo handling and integrated content searching, the new slicker Hotmail has powered ahead of Gmail. But is it better overall?
With ever more users shifting their email, contacts, calendars and productivity applications to free online services, we've had a good look at Microsoft's update to Hotmail, known as Windows Live Hotmail Wave 4 (HW4). This newer and better Hotmail boasts social-media and multimedia support, but it’s also providing an onramp to Microsoft’s Office Live productivity tools – something the company hopes will counter the rise of Google Docs.
With 15 billion Office documents already stored within Hotmail and 350 million documents shared every month, Microsoft may already have a built-in market. But how does HW4 stack up against Gmail?
HW4 offers the option of a reading pane on the bottom or right-hand side of the screen, and a conversation view that copies Gmail’s feature but can be turned off. Gmail offers just the one layout option, but organises its conversation view into a tabbed view that can hide all but the current message; HW4’s conversation view lists all messages in a column, and message text can be toggled on and off.
The new Hotmail's inbox view.
Google’s Rules interface executes when messages match a range of criteria. HW4’s more-limited Sweep feature automatically moves or deletes current and/or future messages based on their sender. HW4 organises messages using a conventional email folder hierarchy, while Gmail uses labels to group messages into ‘folders’ that are in reality just specific label searches.Creating a new folder
.Sweep-Move.The finished Sweep
Calendar, Contacts, Tasks
Gmail tightly integrates with Google’s Calendar, tasks, and contacts: for example, emails can be made into tasks, while addresses and appointment times are pulled from email messages to quickly create new appointments HW4 does not do this. Gmail syncs contacts and calendar entries with a range of mobile devices, but HW4 only provide mobile access to this information through its mobile Web interface. Gmail's Add to CalendarHotmail's version.
Gmail searches use Google’s search engine to search your email archive, while HW4 uses Bing to great effect with specialised searches. For example, you can open a sidebar to insert images or clipart from Bing Images, videos from Bing Video, and maps from, well, you get the idea. Gmail does not do this.Search Bing from within the email.
HW4 displays attached photos in a row, and its Active View feature quickly opens embedded videos or launches a Silverlight-based slide show offering smooth scrolling and a nice full-screen mode. Gmail lists photo attachments one at a time at the end of the message, and can only view full-sized images in separate windows or as a list. When sending photos, HW4 uploads your images as an album on SkyDrive that is available to other people to view and comment on, online.Video in Active ViewSlideshow in Active View.More of the slideshow in Active View. Pictures embedded in an email.Sending pictures.Picture display within the email.
HW4 integrates with Windows Office Live, allowing inline viewing and editing of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents as well as sharing and versioning via HW4. Gmail links with Google Docs and provides inline collaborative editing, but requires Office documents to be converted to Google Docs format for editing. Google Docs also offers features like built-in OCR, equation editing, and more.Inline editing of Word documents.Setting Office permissions.Launching Office.
Social network integration
HW4’s Social updates filter automatically shows email updates from social-media services like Facebook, Twitter, and allows you to respond to friend requests without leaving Hotmail. And the Windows Live main page offers a ‘Messenger social’ section that aggregates social-media updates. Like Gmail Chat, Windows Live Messenger is available from the email interface.Integration with LinkedinAccessing social media.Getting social updates.Hotmail's social control panel.
Both platforms support of themes, some of which change according to the time of day and user’s location. Gmail also offers Google Labs gadgets adding features like inline Google Maps previews, multiple inboxes, Google Calendar events, and out-there Labs features like Mouse gestures and Mail Goggles, which imposes several maths equations you must complete correctly before sending late-night or alcohol-fuelled emails. Google offers a vacation responder, and WM4 offers loads of emoticons.
HW4 is a big step forward for Hotmail, leveraging Microsoft’s Live services and offering improvements over Gmail in areas like social media integration, photo handling, integrated content searching, and other niceties that make it appealing as a personal mail service. However, Gmail’s Labs and ever-changing features, as well as links to Google’s broader, collaborative applications make it a more functionally flexible Webmail platform.