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New-look Hotmail: the verdict

You like it, we like it. Bit slow though

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Well, we have been poring over the new-style Hotmail, as have you, and it would seem we nearly agree that it's an improvement.

Microsoft has confirmed it had technical problems when it first went live, so it pulled it and put it back up this morning. It's been stable all day except it is a bit slow and some areas are tough to get into but then that is no doubt down the number of people visiting to check out what's changed.

Yes, it is a bit too blue. Yes, the tie-ins with everything Microsoft instinctively put us on our back foot but they are not obtrusive and many will find them useful.

We're also happy to say that it works perfectly well with all main browsers (Explorer, Navigator, Mozilla, Opera) and all main OSes. However, there are some features that only appear if you use Explorer. For example, in the Compose area, if you're viewing through Opera, the "quick address list" and "rich text editor" options don't appear. There are other bits and bobs but we can't be bothered to list them all here.

The best bit about the new version is undoubtedly the new junk mail filters. Spam is always a problem with Hotmail accounts but Microsoft has actually done an excellent job in approaching the problem. You get to decide the level of security - right the way up to "exclusive", which will scrap every email that doesn't come from the people in your address book.

It also allows you to block particular senders, although there appears to be a 200 sender limit on this. All suspect junk mail is sent in a new junk mail folder. You can chose for them to be deleted immediately or remain for 14 days. The 14 days gives you time to review messages and if you find any that are not junk, you can select them and Hotmail will let them through in future.

Other customisation features are good as well. Select the number emails that are displayed on the page, the width of them, message headers etc etc.

The main problem with all this is that in trying to tie Hotmail neatly with other MSN services (oh, there's a mobile confirmation service with, you've guessed it, MSN Mobile), Microsoft has forgotten that Hotmail for the vast majority of people is a Web-based email service and nothing else.

Hence the irritating loss of the "check mail" button and check pop-mail. Also, even if you have new mail, you are fed straight into the Homepage. There is a very good reason for this - it would seem that MS is tailoring it. It is also the MSN entry point.

As Australian reader emailed saying that he was faced with a link to MSN's Aussie news service. The service is his default page, so its looks as though Microsoft is tying the browser preferences into MSN, giving you fewer reasons to ever want to leave its magic confines.

Some of you have been in touch to say you hate the new interface, but the vast majority like it. And we do too. All in all, an excellent upgrade. [We should say we have unconfirmed reports that it is crashing Navigator 4.7 and the delete button doesn't work with Opera. We remain unconvinced at the mo.]

Which is more than we can say for free, secure email service Hushmail. We're great fans of Hushmail, an extremely secure email system. However, it is currently having terrible troubles upgrading to version two of its software.

It hasn't been working for hours. We called up about an hour and a half ago and were told there were some migration problems with new keys but it would be sorted out in half an hour. It's still not working. ®

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