First problem: finding the damn thing! Live Search for 'mail' and the top hit is something called mail.com (?). Hotmail / Live Mail isn't even on the page. Google has you at number 5 - bloody generous under the circumstances. Swap 'mail' for 'email' and the same thing happens. Search for 'live mail' and you get some sort of downloadable email client. You already ship an email client with the operating system you muppets!
Thanks to Google I have now found Live Mail:
This page fails for more reasons than I have patience to describe, here is a sample:
- Headline item: "New | Manage Newsletters". I have no idea what that even means.
- "Hi, Rupert!". What is the comma for? Small point I know, but it's ugly.
- "Mailbox Usage". Is anybody ever even close to their 5GB limit? If they are, warn them by all means, otherwise stop taking up real estate and stop making me think.
- Where's my bloody email already? Oh, it's the non-underlined, non-blue, link called "Inbox" floating in what I retrospectively deduce is a list of folders. No icons, no demarcation between that space and any other space on the page. Weak.
More poking around reveals that this page was actually the Live Hotmail landing page. The Live home page itself is different again:
Better, but still flawed. The two headline items are the date and the weather. I can work these out quite easily already using a combination of the computer clock and a window. Fundamentally it is trying to do too much with one page: weather report, news service, email alerts, social networking, photo sharing, search, etc... Every piece of information you put in front of the user subtracts from every other piece. Tie two birds together, and though they have four wings, they cannot fly.
Finally we reach the Inbox. Pretty and usable enough, but paging 20 emails at a time is so old school it took me several visits to spot the paging links at all. No way to mark all messages as read or to select all the messages in the folder is just frustrating. By way of balance I suppose I should list the things I like: the reading pane perhaps, which nicely fills the screen. However, the hate easily outweighs the love.
Come on Microsoft: Google is completely kicking your ass on web-based services. Gmail, Reader, and Search are fantastic on desktop and mobile devices (don't even get me started on your mobile portal). If you want to build an enterprise service like Live that owns every part of the user experience, you need anchor applications that people love to use. They will then be curious about your other offerings and start to explore. For example, Gmail is a great mail client and has a list of various other services as real HTML links on the top line of the page; it doesn't beat you over the head with a list of every product group with influence over the landing page.
Live needs to work out what it is all about: Is it the web version of the users trusted desktop apps? Is it trying to exploit synergies between applications? Is it the gateway between the web and the desktop? What makes the brand any different to MSN, which also feels like all the appliances in your house switched on simultaneously?