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There's no such thing as a free lunch, as 330,000 Hotmail users found out last week.

Following a server breakdown, these people were locked out of their Hotmail free email accounts for 10 days. And when the server was powered up and back online, many found that all their data, including addresses and saved messages, were lost.

It looks like Microsoft, Hotmail's owner-operator, put the repaired server back to work before fully completing data recovery routines. The company says that all data should be recovered, at some point.

It is easy to imagine the frustration of the Hotmail users (a small proportion of the 66 million account holders), especially those foolhardy enough to use the account as their primary or sole email address.

What is one to make of the people uncovered by Wired such as Tom Demchack, who runs a gourmet food-delivery business in Pittsburgh, USA.

"I won't go into how much I lost, because as a heavy user of Hotmail, much business was contained in the various folders. Nor will I ever know what was lost while the server was down."

Or Carl Toups, "a construction mechanic for the Navy in Gulfport, Mississippi". The Hotmail outage had disrupted communication between him and his 600 colleagues, he told Wired. Twenty of them have had to open Yahoo! instant messengers. Poor lambs.

What are these people complaining about? Hotmail is a free email service designed for the consumer mass-market. It is not an appropriate business tool, as our Pittsburgh gourmet delivery man is, through his false economy, finding to his cost. ®

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