Free Hotmail and Windows Live Mail, Meet Microsoft Outlook

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Microsoft Office Outlook Connector is new! It's improved! It's improved but not (exactly) new! Depending upon your point of view, any of these statements is true.

But first, before we argue about that, what exactly is Microsoft Office Outlook Connector?

Microsoft Office Outlook Connector enables users of Office 2003 and Office 2007 who also use Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail to access and manage their Windows Live Hotmail accounts. You send and receive messages, can filter and stop junk email, and manage contacts from Windows Live Hotmail within Microsoft Outlook.

If you're a veteran user of Office 2003, though, you might be saying to yourself, "That's all very nice, but I remember ponying up some money every year for the privilege of using Outlook to manage Hotmail, using a service called Microsoft Office Outlook Live ." Hotmail Plus has also offered a paid service for existing Outlook users. Here's the 'new and improved' part of the deal: you can now access both paid and free Windows Live Hotmail and MSN Hotmail accounts with Microsoft Office Outlook - and do it for free with Microsoft Office Outlook Connector. That's F-R-E-E .

That's a very good deal for Office 2003 and Office 2007 users who are also running Windows Vista. Windows Vista's integrated email client, Windows Mail, doesn't work with Hotmail or other web-based email services. Thanks to the new Microsoft Office Outlook Connector, Vista users can still access Windows Live Hotmail with a full-featured email client without needing to use a third-party service like FreePOPs .

If you're already a paid subscriber to MSN Hotmail, Windows Live Hotmail or Office Live, your subscription still gets you some extras: calendar tasks and notes functionality are available only with paid subscriptions.

How clever is this move by Microsoft? Let's count the ways:

1. Vista users who also run Hotmail have a new reason to use Office 2003 or Office 2007 (if they're not already using it)

2. Users clinging to older Office editions who also use Hotmail have a new reason to upgrade to Office 2007.

3. By integrating support for all levels of Hotmail into Outlook, Microsoft can help to head off defections to other web-based email services like Gmail.

4. Windows XP SP2 users who use Office 2003 or Office 2007 who've been delaying the move to Vista because of concerns about accessing their Hotmail accounts can now make the move without losing access to their web-based email.

Learn more about Microsoft Outlook at the new Microsoft Office Outlook Team Blog .

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