Microsoft launched Windows Live Hotmail on May 7. That much I'm sure of.
Microsoft also seemed to announce that Windows Mail is now dead. Windows Mail, the built-in Vista mail client, is going to be superseded by Windows Live Mail -- which is not the same thing as Windows Live Hotmail. Windows Live Mail is (I think) a product formerly known as Windows Live Mail Desktop. (Windows Live Mail is still in beta, I believe.)
I am not the only one who's scratching my head, it seems. Robert McLaws of Windows-Now.com:
"Confused yet? You're not the only one. Since Windows Mail in Vista is officially dead, it remains to be seen if the final Windows Live Mail will remove all traces of Windows Mail from Vista, or if the two will coexist come RTM. Fortunately for Microsoft, much of the code between Windows Mail and Live Mail Desktop was the same, so the loss of Windows Mail won't be mourned for too long."
I asked Microsoft that very question. The answer, courtesy of a Microsoft spokeswoman, left me even more confounded. Does Windows Live Mail and/or Windows Live Hotmail replace Windows Mail on Windows Vista machines? The spokeswoman's answer:
"Windows Mail remains resident on PC, but Windows Live Mail replaces the shortcuts. When you use Windows Live Mail for the first time, it brings over your settings/email info from Windows Mail, or the previous client so you don't need to reconfigure or re-set all of your accounts. You will be able to now add one or more Windows Live Hotmail accounts for free - and when you do so we'll light up additional features of Windows Live Mail."
"Windows Mail (client on Vista) does not automatically import your Windows Live Hotmail (on the web) settings/contacts/e-mail. It does not turn into Windows Live Hotmail. Windows Live Mail (the client) will import these things when installed."
There are two different looks for Windows Live Hotmail: The classic old Hotmail UI and the newer Outlook-2007-like UI. Not sure what that means for Windows Live Mail, if anything. Microsoft plans to engage in a campaign to convince Hotmail holdouts to switch to the latest release. By November, even if they haven't been convinced, Hotmail users will be migrated to Windows Live Hotmail.
McLaws wonders aloud whether this Hotmail/Windows Live Hotmail/Windows Live Mail (Desktop) morass will mark the last of a dying breed of intra-team competitions at Microsoft.
"Will this be the last time Microsoft creates a bunch of different apps that serve almost the same purpose? Probably not. First imaging software, then mail clients... I wonder what will be next? It also remains to be seen if this is the last time Microsoft plays 'Pin the Name on the Mail Client.' Hopefully it is, for all our sakes."