Thursday, November 08, 2007

Comparison: Windows Live Hotmail vs. Gmail

Summary
I have free hosted email accounts with both Microsoft Hotmail (now "Windows Live Hotmail") as well as Google's Gmail. Ages ago, prior to Gmail's existence, I used Hotmail nearly daily, and since Gmail arrived on the scene, it's my daily full-time Email system of choice.

After Hotmail was "upgraded" to Windows Live Hotmail, I gave it another look, and if possible, Microsoft made Hotmail worse with this "upgrade". The Windows Live Hotmail interface is nearly unusable and completely intolerable to me. It is so SLOW, I don't know how anyone can deal with it - just checking a checkbox in the Inbox carries with it a significant delay while the screen refreshes, and the overall interface doesn't even work properly in non-Microsoft browsers (i.e., Firefox - where the splitter-control in the Inbox view is completely non-functioning).

Bottom line: Windows Live Hotmail has only one thing going for it - it is FREE - but, free doesn't make it good enough to compete with Gmail even in the least.


Functionality Comparison
Where to begin? These software products, both web-based email programs, are so completely different, with Gmail being fast, responsive, full-featured, and well designed from a usability standpoint, and Windows Live Hotmail being at nearly the complete opposite end of the spectrum.


Interface Speed and Usability:
As I already hinted above, there is no comparison: Google's Gmail wins this hands-down. Regardless of which browser I use with each product (yes, I have tried both Firefox and IE with each), there is still no comparison. Gmail's user interface is fast and responsive and logical, Hotmail's is the complete opposite and is slow, inefficient, and pure drudgery to use.

OK Hotmail staff, explain to me why you feel the need to show a default image in your checkbox column of something other than a checkbox? (envelope images, closed ones, open ones, ones with arrows, etc.) This is insane. It further slows the event-code on the rows and makes the UI controls exhibit anywhere near "standard" behaviour. Many times I just want to select a few messages to delete, but it takes forever, since your code has to refresh so much junk on the page, and the onclick routines are tyring to update the message-preview window below at the same time, and so much more. It is unusable. Just dragging the "splitter" (between inbox items list and the preview pane below) is slowwwwww. I'm using a FAST machine by the way, so what the heck is going on?

This type of experience persists throughout the entire offerings from each - Gmail tends to just "get it right" and do so in a fast and efficient and usable manner, whereas Hotmail tends to somehow overdesign their interface and generally make for a dismal user experience.


SPAM Filtering:
The default SPAM filtration in Google's Gmail is wonderful! Whatever Gmail is using for their SPAM-Detection logic is superb to say the least. In a given year, I can't recall a single piece of SPAM making it through to my inbox. As for "false positives" (i.e., valid email being considered SPAM), I have had only 3 or 4 emails per year fall into that category, and that is almost always a condition that occurs just once with any given sender, and typically the first time a new sender ever communicates with me where they just happened to use keywords in their email that looked suspect or something. By comparison, Hotmail's default SPAM filter is no where near as accurate... considering I use Hotmail much less than Gmail, it is rather ridiculous that I get at least one SPAM messages a day on average in Hotmail. Speaking of SPAM, one of the regular pseudo-spammers is Microsoft themselves, always sending messages from the "Windows Live Team" announcing something, whether important or not.

Related: In Hotmail, by default, if you get an email with a URL / link to an external web page and you click that link, a popup will show stating that "Attachments, pictures, and links in the message have been blocked for your safety. would you like to unblock the content of the message?". OK, this sounds like a nice security feature, but if my email had been properly filtered to begin with, chances are that the link in my email is one that I really want to view and this popup is nothing more than another clunky and annoying aspect of this interface.


Grouping of Email Conversation Threads:
No comparison! Gmail does it, Hotmail does not. The Inbox in Hotmail gets cluttered so quickly with conversation responses that it is overwhelming to manage it. Every new inbound Email is a line item in the inbox, which coupled with an incredibly slow user-interface, multiplies the absolute torture of using the Hotmail product. By contrast, Gmail presents your email Inbox lines as conversational-thread summaries, thus keeping all the back and forth communication on a single topic together in the inbox-view, whether there is a single exchange or 100 exchanges on a topic - this keeps the Inbox MUCH more manageable to say the least! Gmail gets mega-points for this well planned and well-implemented feature.

What I wish they (all email products - Gmail included) would allow for yet, would be the option to "split" a thread if I desired, and allow me to rename the subject-line (essentially, I want to be able to label a subject-line with something meaningful or more accurate if needed - especially when someone sends me an email about something important, and either leaves the subject-line blank or labels it "HI" or some such thing). If Gmail did this, their product would be nearly perfect in my opinion. Anyone at Google listening? Just abstract the subject-line property a bit, and allow for a user-defined override "label" if desired.


Conclusion:
I'd like to continue with the detailed comparison of these products, but the fact is, as I sit here writing this, and using both email platforms as I type (to remember what the differences are), I just get so frustrated with the Hotmail product that I don't even want to deal with it anymore. I don't need to see a bunch of MSN Today crap on a "home page" for my email,... I don't need any of this user-interface frustration with the Microsoft product either. I'm sticking with Gmail, and just enjoying the fact it is so vastly superior. Enough said. Try both out, and see what you think.

1 comment:

John said...

Couldn't agree with you more. I put a short cut on my desktop for Windows Live and when I click it I get a message that I have cookies blocked (which I don't) and go into Internet Options and into the privacy tab and type in "live.com."
I did this and yet everytime I try to use the short cut it says the same thing. When I look in the privacy tab, sure enough, the address in already in there. But when I added Windows Live in my favorites it opens with no problem (strange). I have had the same problems with attachements, pictures, etc as you have. At any rate, I have burned at least a day trying to make the hotmail experience functional. I also use gmail and have never had a problem with it. In addition, hotmail has gone down several times for hours. Never had this problem with gmail. I, too, will be shifting over to gmail. Bottom line: it's a cleaner, easier to use program.