UPDATE: You can download the final released version of the Outlook Connector here or through Windows Live Essentials at download.live.com.
Today you can now download the beta of the next version of the Microsoft Office Outlook Connector.
Download: Microsoft Office Outlook Connector (Beta)
The Microsoft Office Outlook Connector is designed to let you access your Windows Live Hotmail account through Outlook 2003 or Outlook 2007. You will be able to download and install the Connector to sync up your email and contacts in Windows Live Hotmail for free. However, if you are a paid subscriber of MSN Premium, Office Live Essentials, or Office Live Premium you will get the added functionality of being able to sync up your calendar, tasks and notes from Outlook to Windows Live Hotmail.
I know many of you probably took note to the statement made on the download page of being able to “synchronize your Windows Live Calendar in Outlook”. Windows Live Hotmail currently has a built in calendar service which is essentially your Windows Live Calendar. Your calendar from Outlook is published and viewable through this service in Windows Live Hotmail.
I pinged Jared Brown today who is a Program Manager on the Outlook Connector Team to discuss today’s Beta release and the Outlook Connector in general. One of the benefits that Jared highlighted for me was that when the Outlook Connector is installed it does not alter any pre-existing email accounts already setup in Outlook. For example: if you are a user in a Microsoft Exchange environment and want to access your Hotmail account via Outlook, the Connector won’t impact the use of being connected to a Microsoft Exchange Server. Both email accounts will work without causing issues. “You’ll essentially have two folders for each module, one will sync one won’t (just like you’ll have two email Inboxes etc.),” Jared explained.
I also asked Jared to talk a little bit about the backend technology that the Outlook Connector uses to sync up email and contacts. The Outlook Connector Beta uses DeltaSync – a brand new protocol for syncing up with web services (such as Hotmail) that is also used extensively in Windows Live Mail. Previous versions of the Outlook Connector employed DAV to sync up email. However, this proved to be expensive and not quite efficient enough especially with Hotmail’s extremely large user base. “DeltaSync was created to boost efficiency and finally let us create a version of the connector that we can release for free,” Jared said. DeltaSync is one of my favorite backend technologies to come out of Microsoft to-date.
I installed the Outlook Connector Beta on my PC and it works as advertised. It quickly syncs together email from Windows Live Hotmail into Outlook 2007 (note that this beta also works with Outlook 2003 as well!) very nicely.
It also syncs your Windows Live Contacts as well. When installed in Outlook – you will get a new Outlook Connector Toolbar that allows you to view your server status.
Your server status includes how much space you have left in Hotmail and any errors that may have occurred during sync. I am currently not a MSN Premium, Office Live Essentials or Office Live Premium subscriber so I get a red “x” next to calendar which fails to sync since I am not paying for a service that offers that added benefit. However email and contacts sync up great. You can still use Outlook’s calendar, it just won’t sync to the Windows Live.
You are able to configure calendar sharing and add more accounts to use the Outlook Connector with. If you have multiple Hotmail accounts or Windows Live Custom Domains and Office Live accounts – they all can be configured into a single Outlook profile. I configured up to 4 Hotmail accounts in one Outlook Profile. I saw no decrease in performance in Outlook 2007 either.
In Windows Vista, since Outlook 2007 utilizes the Windows Desktop Search indexer, any email that you sync up from Windows Live Hotmail in Outlook 2007 is easily searchable through Windows Vista’s Start Menu.
Special thanks to Jared Brown for taking the time to talk with me today. Remember, this release of the Outlook Connector is a beta. If you have any issues, just go to “Send Feedback” under the Outlook Connector menu in Outlook (see above screenshot). Or leave a comment and I’ll be sure to forward the feedback on to the team.