I got the invitation for testing the Windows Live Mail Beta & I opted for it, anticipating some enhanced UI that will help me use my Hotmail better. The invitations for this next generation of Hotmail are given out by themselves only, no existing beta tester can invite anyone else, as in the case of Gmail. So I jumped on, upgraded to Windows Live Mail Beta and logged in. But after using the interface for a few minutes, I was quite a bit disappointed, even though I’d known from the first looks that I’ll be disappointed!!
The mail interface is horizontally divided into three frames. The left frame has the list of folders like Inbox, Deleted Items, Junk Mail & user folders etc. The middle frame displays the contents of the current folder, so if you click a folder in the left frame, the contents of the middle frame will change. The right frame is the biggest of three and displays the email message selected in the middle frame. The interface smells strongly of the sweet aroma of AJAX but it also stinks of the nasty odour which comes when too many things are crammed up in too little space!!
Since the whole interface is AJAXified, you need to have a modern browser to view it, though I’m not in favour of using any older browsers(you are not supposed to be browsing internet if you are stuck with an older browser). But there are three things that annoyed me most & because of which I’d say that the Windows Live Mail is crap as of yet!!
Firstly, you cannot view more than one email at a time, since you cannot open email messages in new windows/tabs as was possible with earlier UI, which leads to frustration as mentioned in the next point.
Secondly, since you cannot open email messages in new window/tab, you are restricted to viewing the emails in that confined space of rightside frame which means that you’ve to scroll a lot both vertically & horizontally, which is quite frustrating.
Thirdly, whenever you open a folder, the first email message of that folder is automatically opened in the rightside frame. Now this will lead to more spam!! How you may ask!! Well, sophisticated spammers & marketers use tracking images in emails so that they can track which email addresses are valid & how many people read the emails. This is done by embedding an image in the email which is called from the server of the spammer/marketer. The URL of this image is made unique & attached to the email so that actions for every email can be tracked. Now when the email is opened, the image is loaded & the info is sent to the spammer/marketer that your email is valid & it has opened the email. Now this may not be that much of a problem since images from unknown senders are blocked & you’ve to click a link to view them, but still its irksome, since you sometimes get advertising emails from known senders as well and I for one wouldn’t want to pass them the info that I’ve seen their ad email. For example, I subscribe to a newsletter which also sends me emails from their advertisers. Seeing the subject lines of these emails, I simply deleted them earlier, but now they are opened(if they are at the top) without my consent whenever I open my Inbox, thus providing the advertisers info that I’ve read their email(which will surely prompt them to send more ad emails).
Now another nuisance of this interface is that the Live team has crammed up too much into too less area that I can’t even read the subject of emails properly, thus allowing me to delete useless ad emails!!
I think that its these kind of small details that become major nuisances if they are not paid attention. They can add however much AJAX they want to the interface, but if the UI isn’t usable, they are not getting much out of it in my opinion. If they are to be competitive with Gmail(which certainly is their agenda) then they’ve got to become usable from unusable. Gmail excels in that, and they provide both enhanced UI as well as simple basic UI, and a user can pick any of them as per his preferences. If I wanted an Outlook type interface, I’d have chosen it instead of webbased email, wouldn’t have I? So I don’t know where the Live team got their delusion that people wanted an Outlook type interface, and even Outlook doesn’t have the quirks that this Windows Live Mail has!!
And a word for those who want to try this new interface. 😕 Its nothing which you should be excited about, not right now that is. Your current Hotmail interface is much better that that, trust me!! 😉