Ina Fried has the story at CNET in Microsoft to bring Hotmail onto the desktop:
This week, Microsoft served up the first test version of Windows Live Mail Desktop, a free Windows program that will let users manage multiple e-mail accounts. The software is designed to work with Windows Live Mail, the successor to Hotmail that is also in beta testing.
The move is a shift for the Hotmail business, which in the past, has charged users who wanted to read their mail using desktop software rather than a Web browser. Microsoft charged $20 and more for its paid service. It’s part of the company’s broader Windows Live effort and could eventually serve as a hub, not just for Windows Live Mail, but for other Microsoft Web-based services as well.
It works as a general purpose email client for any standard IMAP and POP3 mail services as well as Hotmail and Windows Live Mail. The beta is starting out with about 100 users and ramping up to 5,000 over the next few weeks according to the team blog which has more details.
I have to point out that you and I already have a Microsoft product that does most of this called Outlook Express. Well, it may not do Hotmail for you, but it does for me and therein lies a small story. In the early days after Microsoft’s acquisition of Hotmail they enabled free Hotmail access via OE and, as I recall, required one to request installation instructions via mail. I did so and the free access has been grandfathered for the few folks who actually used it through all the twists and turns in the Hotmail business model ever since. That’s also a good way to think of Live Mail Desktop – it’s Outlook Express brought up to date with a variety of modern features and free access to the Microsoft email venues.