Rumors have been swirling for a long time that Microsoft was planning to end the httpmail or DAV support on Hotmail. For those not familiar with the protocol, it allows Hotmail to synchronize with various desktop e-mail clients such as Outlook Express and Entourage. Microsoft actually sent out a notice more than a year ago that they were planning this, but, presumably after an outcry, they held off on it.
Now the time has come. Microsoft is discontinuing DAV altogether starting in September. If you want to use Hotmail on Outlook Express or Entourage, you will be forced to use it via the POP protocol, a woefully outdated way of using e-mail in the year 2009. POP does not allow any use of folders on the server, so while Hotmail on the web may offer “ever-growing” storage, forget organizing those gazillion e-mails into any kind of folder system, because the folders you create on the web, and the e-mails they hold, will not be visible on your e-mail client. Moreover, doing anything with your e-mails on the client, such as deleting them, will not be synchronized with the web. You have the choice of downloading all e-mail to the client, thus losing the ability to access it from any other device, or you can “leave messages on server” and be faced with many duplicate e-mails. Neither option is very appealing.
Hotmail via POP is also going to require you to use port 25 for your outbound e-mail. Many ISPs block port 25 due to its abuse by spammers, so you may not be able to use Hotmail’s outbound e-mail server at all. For many users, there will be no sending mail with Hotmail from your desktop.
Microsoft’s explanation for all of this foolishness is that DAV is an outdated protocol. That may well be, but POP is hardly a modern upgrade, despite the spin some of the Microsoft support personnel are putting on it on the support forums. With legitimate options available these days (IMAP, Exchange, Mobile Me), that allow folder synchronization, few would willingly choose POP. We live in a different era than the one that gave rise to POP. In the earlier years of e-mail, many people accessed their e-mail from one computer only, so POP worked just fine. Now, however, people may use several different devices to access their e-mail. Personally, I use a computer at work, more than one computer at home, my iPhone, iPod Touch, and a Windows Mobile phone. I want my e-mail to work on all of those devices _and_ to stay synchronized. Technology these days makes that a reasonable expectation. The Hotmail web interface, like that of many services, is not an appealing option, particularly on mobile devices. One of the reasons I have been a loyal Hotmail user for eleven years, including paying for a premium account, is that, of all the webmail services, they provided the best functionality with desktop e-mail clients.
So who will be affected by this?
1. If you use Hotmail on the web only, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t affect you, even though Microsoft sent you the same e-mail, which has caused hundreds of posts on their support forums from people who don’t understand why they got the e-mail telling them their Hotmail was going to stop working.
2. Outlook Express users are out of luck. POP only.
3. Same goes for Entourage users. I can sort of understand discontinuing support for Outlook Express, since it is not a current Microsoft product, but Entourage 2008 certainly is.
4. Windows Live Mail users – does anyone really like this program? Well, if you do, you’re in luck, because it will work for you. It uses a proprietary Microsoft protocol called “Delta Sync” to allow synchronization. Microsoft wants to force Hotmail users into Windows Live Mail’s clunkier (even the name is clunky), decidedly less clean, interface, when Outlook Express worked just fine. I guess this makes sense for the company that decided Vista was an upgrade to XP. Windows Live Mail isn’t an option for Mac users.
5. Outlook users can use Hotmail by installing a program called the “Outlook Connector” available from Microsoft. I have tried this, and it does appear to work, leaving folders and synchronization intact. Which leads me to wonder why this can’t be an option for Entourage users since Entourage is, after all, a Microsoft product.
6. For Outlook Mobile, I have no idea. It wasn’t mentioned in their e-mail and has received minimal discussion on the support forums.
Interestingly, the one platform which may not be affected is the iPhone. I use an app called mBox Mail, which is designed to allow the use of Hotmail on the iPhone, and the developer informed me that this app does not use DAV, and will still work after the switch. In an ironic twist, this may be the one feature that will cause me to keep Hotmail, since I love mBox Mail, and actually prefer it by leaps and bounds to the built-in Mail app on the iPhone. It is rumored that they may make a Mac version of the app, which could be enough to get me to stick with Hotmail. Quite ironic that I may stick with Microsoft’s Hotmail in order to use a 3rd party e-mail client for Apple’s iPhone.
So for now I am going to hold off on changing, although I spent quite a while today switching many online accounts to Gmail. Gmail thankfully allows forwarding, and for the time being I still have it set to allow forwarding to my Hotmail e-mail. But I am going to be prepared to leave Hotmail if Microsoft doesn’t change its mind, or if mBox Mail doesn’t have a good Mac client in place with enough lead time before September so that I can get my folders switched over to another service while I still can.