Review of Hotmail email aliases: A for idea, 'Eh' for execution

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MSN and Hotmail now lets users add up to five new and unique email addresses to their existing address, the company announced about a month ago. It’s a great idea – most people juggle more than one email address depending on whether it’s work or play, not to mention keeping one around for anything that may generate spam.

Gmail gaining ground
Hotmail was my very first email account, I abandoned the good ship MSN when Gmail came along and offered users loads of storage. Gmail also let you forward your mail to other addresses, to name some of the flexibilities it had even back then, meaning Gmail became my email of choice and Hotmail became the spam-receiver.

A quick straw-poll among friends shows that this has been the case for many Hotmail accounts over the past few years, and while the sample group is small it’s safe to say Hotmail (and Yahoo mail) has suffered from the success of Gmail. But then this Hotmail Alias thing came along, and as I need another email address I eyed an opportunity not to have to familiarise myself with yet another webmail system.

Getting an Alias
So I logged into my Hotmail account and clicked the button for ‘Options’, looking for how to add an Alias. Now, I will admit to not looking around for more than about five minutes before giving up, but that’s a very long time in web-land isn’t it. So I googled the problem – yes, basically asking the competition how to set up Hotmail Alias. Google came through with more than one handy step-by-step instruction, and the problem was solved in a minute. If you want to know, the procedure is ‘options’, ‘more options’, and then click on ‘Windows Live’. I’ve seen the button for Windows Live when logging into the Hotmail account, but I’d never paid much attention to it. A peek around this Windows Live-place reveals something like a personal profile page, but there is one strictly practical element: The option to add multiple email addresses within your existing address.

I’m not sure why MSN feels a need to separate this from the Hotmail side of things, because it seems natural to search the Hotmail side to perform an act related to, well, Hotmail. But adding my new email showed you can choose between an address with the suffix, or, so maybe that explains the logic behind it. Adding the new email was quick though, and about ten minutes later a confirmation email was sent telling me the new address was ready. But the system doesn’t tell you need to wait for this conformation, meaning I initially thought the setup had failed as my first test email bounced.

… but why the clunk?
The new email is now live and kicking within my old email page, and when sending an email I can choose which address to use as the sender. I have also set up a separate folder for all email that comes to the new address. Again this works well once it’s set up, but for some reason the system won’t let you divert it into an existing folder – it forces you to create a new folder. A small problem, granted, but it adds to the clunkiness of the process.

In conclusion – Hotmail Aliases is a great idea, and once it’s set up it works really well. A for effort, MSN. But the setup process is unnecessarily complicated. In the end it took less than fifteen minutes, but that was thanks to the kindness of internet strangers having created a tutorial to help me manoeuvre a fiddly system. Fifteen minutes is a long time for something that should probably have taken less than five minutes. So while it’s a great boost for Hotmail, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. If this is representative of Hotmail’s effort to regain the webmail crown, I suspect Gmail needn’t lose sleep any time soon.

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