Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
So, what’s up with Microsoft and email?
Hi, everyone! Leo Notenboom here for askleo.com. As you’ll notice, I published an article this week that discusses Windows Live Mail 2012’s support or the lack of support that it’s about to have for accessing Outlook.com email accounts and that got me to thinking some about Microsoft’s interesting history when it comes to email specifically email programs.
Outlook Express that came out with Windows XP was a wonderful, wonderful email program. I really, I really have to give it a lot of credit for essentially putting a lot of people on to the internet. A lot of people actually started using email for the first time because Outlook Express was there with Windows XP. At the time, the most popular operating system on the planet and a lot of people just started using email because it was there, it was easy, it was what they became familiar with.
Of course, as we know, Microsoft stopped supporting Outlook Express with Windows Vista. They replaced it with something called Microsoft Mail, which never really caught in popularity. It didn’t have all of the functionality of Outlook Express. It looked a little bit different. And of course, Outlook Express kind of, sort of worked – you could make Outlook Express work on Windows Vista if you needed to.
When Windows 7 came about, not only did Outlook Express no longer work, Windows Mail didn’t come with it and in fact, no email program came with it. Instead what they offered then was something called Windows Live Mail; something part of the, at the time, Windows Live Essentials, that again, through multiple rebrandings over time were also part of, at the time was MSN.
It was a free download and if you wanted an email program from Microsoft for free, Windows Live Mail was the thing to do. It basically is what a lot of people have been using since Outlook Express is explicitly no longer supported. Now, when Windows 8 came out, of course, Microsoft included a mail app simply called “Mail” and indeed in Windows 10 that mail app is still there.
Whether it is the same one or a modified version I don’t know because, to be honest, neither of them feels particularly good to me. They seem to be pretty limited when it comes to functionality. Certain kinds of functionality that I think most people really care about. Now, the mail app with Windows 10 is what Microsoft is suggesting you do now that they are explicitly removing Outlook.com support from Windows Live Mail.
So if you’re using Windows Live Mail 2012, then you’re faced with and you’re using an Outlook.com or Hotmail account, then you’re faced with another case of Microsoft dropping support on you. Again, this time with very short notice. They actually seem to have given us a couple months’ worth of notice before this is going to happen.
Now, Microsoft has a history, like I said, of kind of, sort of doing that – of dropping support for things that people have been using and have been using successfully. Outlook Express is one example. I think it would be awesome or would have been awesome had they simply continued to support Outlook Express through the multiple versions of Windows that came after Windows XP.
They didn’t. There’s nothing we can do about that. It is what it is. But they didn’t. Then they came out with Windows Mail in Vista. That’s no longer supported as soon as Vista goes out of support. And Windows Live Mail now is kind of, sort of starting to see some, I’ll say some rough edges when it comes to support.
The same is true for email services when you think about it. What was originally Hotmail.com has gone through iterations of user interface and is now at this Outlook.com user interface. You can’t even get a Hotmail address anymore. You can only get Outlook.com or some potentially related email addresses if you’re setting up a new account and you’re only user interface, of course is the Outlook.com website.
So, why am I bringing all of this up? Well, like I said, Microsoft wants us, if you’re using Windows Live Mail 2012, and you’re using it to access a Microsoft email account, in other words, a Hotmail.com account or Outlook or an MSN account or a Live account or any of the email addresses that basically you access through Outlook.com, what they are suggesting you do, what they recommend you do is upgrade or start using the Mail app that comes with Windows 10 and their email actually goes so far to suggest that upgrading to Windows 10 would be the thing to do simply in order to get that Mail app, which they will supposedly continue to support.
I have my concerns. My concerns are long-term. Like I said, I’m not particularly happy with the Mail app as it sits today. It doesn’t seem like much of a mail app, to be honest. But, presumably, they will add features to it at some point and they will maybe make it more robust, more of the mail app that you and I are probably looking for but today it’s not there.
And let’s say they do or let’s say they don’t. They have a history, now, of dropping support for mail programs after a certain amount of time. I’m not sure that trusting them to provide an email program, certainly for free, is the right solution. I honestly believe that they’ve done this to us enough that it’s probably time to look at other options.
Now, naturally, my other option is typically something like Thunderbird, a free downloadable email client that basically does almost everything you might want out of desktop email program that, and I know a lot of people are doing that. A lot of people have tried it and they find a little bit cumbersome and I understand that. That happens. Not every email program works for every body.
There are definitely lots and lots of other alternatives. One that I looked into a while back that seems promising is something called eM Client that my be worth investigating if you’re so inclined but I am tempted now to start steering people away from all Microsoft free email programs with one exception, and that of course is if you continue to use Outlook.com on the web. That’s a fine approach.
I’m absolutely convinced that the user interface with change again. They don’t leave things alone. At some point in the next year, the next two years, the next three years, they’ll be doing something to “improve” the user experience, the user interface for Outlook.com but it’s there, it’s solid and it’s not going to go away. It simply may change at some point.
I still recommend that you use a desktop email program for backing up your email but that can be something that isn’t as user friendly as you might like. I use Thunderbird for that. I find it user friendly for me. Many people don’t; like I said, that’s ok but it is an email program that can then download all of your email to your PC if for no other reason than to back it up.
The other exception and the other approach to email is one that Microsoft has also confused us on. And that is Outlook. Now, one of the things that I face continually and actually all of the questions that I get is that people are confusing Outlook and Outlook.com. They’re two different things; they are. When you tell me that you have problem with Outlook that means you have a problem with the Outlook desktop email program that comes with Microsoft Office.
Of course, with the arrival of Outlook.com, 90% of the people asking the question about Outlook really mean Outlook.com. And that’s, I mean I get that. Most of the time I can absolutely determine the difference based on exactly what it is they are asking about but Microsoft has once again confused us at least by saying there’s this new thing called Outlook.com and by the way, it has nothing to do with Outlook, the email program that comes with Microsoft Office.
If there’s one bit of consistency in this entire email landscape that Microsoft has provided. It is in fact, Outlook, the email program that comes with Microsoft Office. Yes, it’s been through the interface change that all of the Office programs went through a few years ago from the standard menus to the so-called ribbon but beyond that Outlook, the email program, has stayed pretty robust, has stayed really full-featured, has been basically a fairly consistent solution for managing your email on your desktop.
It is a solution that many, many businesses rely on every single day. And I believe that’s one of the reasons it has remained as consistent as it has over the last few years because it is so strongly targeted at the business environment and of course the business environment has much more sway in terms of impacting what Microsoft’s product directions are going to be.
So one solution, of course, is to get Microsoft Outlook (the program) and use that to access your email. The problem, of course is that’s not free. It’s a fine, extremely powerful email program but it’s going to cost you some money. Now, what does it all mean? Well, the bottom line for me is simply this: I no longer recommend any free email program, downloadable program from Microsoft.
They simply have a record of taking away support or changing things in such a way that you want to do can no longer be done at some point. Instead, I recommend if you’re going to use a desktop email program to use something like Thunderbird or any of the dozens and dozens of other alternative email programs that are out there.
There’s going to be one out there that is probably going to make you feel more comfortable and stay more stable and consistent over time than what Microsoft is offering today. If you want to, sure, Outlook from Microsoft Office is a fine solution if you want to pay money, but like I said, when it comes to free, I can only recommend that you steer clear of the Microsoft provided email programs.
So, with that being said, I’d love to hear what you think. Microsoft has basically turned us around a few times when it comes to email and I know that has impacted a lot of people and not in a positive way. Let me know what you think. As always, here’s a link to this video on Ask Leo! if you’re watching this anywhere else, come visit this link.
That’s where you’ll find moderated comments. I may not respond to them all but I absolutely read them all and I really appreciate all of the feedback I get on everything. Until next week, I’m Leo Notenboom. Remember, have fun, stay safe and don’t forget to back up! Email too. Take care.
Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.
I'll see you there!