Windows Live Mail Beta Refreshed

Microsoft on Wednesday began rolling out Milestone 4 of its new Windows Live Mail beta, formerly known by the code-name Kahuna. The update adds support for Web browsers beyond IE6 and implements a number of new features such as spell checking and resizable window panes.

When complete, Windows Live Mail will serve as the next-generation Hotmail, offering an application-like interface for viewing and sending e-mails online. The service has been rebuilt from the ground up to be fast and safe using Microsoft's AJAX-based Atlas framework and a new architecture known as FireAnt.

According to program manager Imran Qureshi, M4 is a substantial upgrade to the product. "We listened to what you, our beta users, told us. We fixed many of your issues, improved reliability, made Kahuna even faster and added some great features that will improve your mail experience," he said.

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One of the biggest additions is support for Firefox, Netscape and Opera Web browsers. "We're still a bit of a work in progress here, so apologies if there are still some glitches," explained Qureshi, noting that core mail features should work fine on alternative browsers.

To help customers stay safe, Windows Live Mail M4 implements a new safety level for incoming messages. The three safety levels are: Known sender, Unknown sender, and Unsafe. "You can always click on 'Why?' to find out why a mail was marked as such and what you can do to change the safety level of this sender," says Qureshi.

In addition, e-mails routed to Junk Mail are no longer displayed automatically. This feature is intended to keep questionable content hidden until explicitly requested.

The spell check addition to M4 works much like writing a document in Word. "Just start typing in Compose and we'll check spelling in the background and put red squiggles under words that are misspelled. You can then right-click them and choose from our suggestions," said Qureshi.

Usability improvements beyond resizable panes include right-click options for emptying the trash, clickable sender e-mail addresses, scrollable message and contact lists, along with clearer error messages. M4 should be available to all beta testers before the end of the week.

For now, Windows Live Mail remains a private beta, however users can apply to join through the new Windows Live Ideas Web site. A Microsoft spokesperson would not say when the company expected to open the service to all users.

"Keep using Kahuna and keep the feedback coming," said Qureshi. "We're not joking when we say that you're now part of our development team."

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