Jonas Stawski

Everything .NET and More

Windows Live Custom Domains - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

So I was reading up on Carl Franklin's blog and came upon this post regarding Windows Live Custom Domains (WLCD) and Google Apps. What are these services? They basically host your email server and all you have to do is change your MX entries of your domain to point to their servers (there are other services involved as well). So I listen to Carl and Scott Hanselman on Hanselminutes talk about these services. In a nutshell, Scott uses Google Apps and Carl was going to use Live so they can compare notes on it. Bottom line is Carl ended up with Google Apps because he couldn't find a way to import all of his emails. More on this later...

So the post you are reading now is hosted on a dedicated server, which means that if I want an email server I either pay extra for it or simply add a mail server and administer it myself. I chose to do it myself so after a few hours of research I found out about hMailServer, a free open source mail server for Windows. I've been using for a year now and I never had any major problems, but I did have some minor ones. I never liked the idea of having my mail server running on my web server, but I wasn't going to pay extra for it so I had no other choice... until I found out about WLCD.

I didn't want to use it on my live emails, so I decided to use a domain I had that I wasn't using. When I saw that everything went as planned I decided to move another domain that I use more frequently, but is not as important as the other domains. Here are my findings...

The Good
It is FREE! No more comments on that.

Sign up process is a breeze. You need to provide a domain or buy a new one, and then provide an admin for the domain using a current live user or creating a new one. After that, you have to prove you own the domain by changing the MX records (and other records for other services). Changing the MX records is the hardest part of the process, but if you're signing up for this service then it is expected for you to know something about domains or at least know how to call your domain registrar's support. Once your records are changed, you showed ownership of the domains and that's it, you're good to go. Then you add users and can assign them temporary passwords (hMailServer lacks this). The users can then go to http://mail.live.com/ and login with their email addresses (user@domain.com) and password and can use Live Mail web interface, but using their own domain email address!

Every user gets 2GB [correction] 5GB of space, more than enough! If 2GB 5GB is not enough for you, you can upgrade to a paid subscription and you get more storage.

You are not limited to a web interface. I use Outlook 2007 and have all my emails in there. You can use Microsoft Office Outlook Connector to add any WLCD or hotmail account. The free service allows you to sync your email and contacts, but if you want to also sync your calendar you have to upgrade to the paid subscription for something like 20 bucks a month (or a year, I’m not sure). This is nothing out of the ordinary since they still have to make money some way.

If you don't want to admin your accounts through their web interface you can download the Windows Live Custom Domains SDK and create your own Control Panel application like this one.

The Bad
You can't import your emails from your previous mail server. You can import your email from a hotmail, live, or msn account. This really is a show stopper for many people including me and Carl Franklin. This is the type of things that make Microsoft loose clients, especially if the competition does have a way to import their emails (Listen to the Hanselminutes linked above for more details). If it's such a show stopper why is this on The Bad rather than The Ugly? Because I do have a solution for this! It's not really an import, but more of a copy and paste solution. I overcame this problem by simply setting up my account in Outlook by using Outlook Connector. Once that was all set up all I had to do was drag all my emails from my previous account to the new one and voila! It could be a pain in the ass if you have thousands and thousands of emails on multiple folders, but it works. This brings me to my next point.

You can't create subfolders. This is a limitation of Live Mail rather than the WLCD service, but still a limitation. I can try and live without sub folder, but I’m not sure how long it will last. Come on Live Mail team show us some love and implement Sub Folders.

I could not find a way to sync my Outlook Contacts with my WLCD contacts. I think the user should have the choice to either have 2 different set of contacts or use one. If you decide to use one, then Outlook Connector should sync whichever contact you chose with your WLCD account. Since I use Outlook 95% of the time and my Windows Mobile Phone 4% of the time I can use my Outlook contacts. For that 1% of the time that I use webmail I do need my contacts. I solved the problem with a simple copy and paste operation, not the best solution, but for the amount of time I use the webmail interface it is a good solution. I have to remember not to change the contacts on my WLCD account and to copy them every now and then.

Microsoft only provides one MX record. They should provide at least 2 MX records, just in case.

I haven't found a way to read the WLCD email through Microsoft Entourage for Mac. Microsoft can't ignore all the Mac users, especially with their current growth.

The Ugly
I haven't found a way to read my WLCD email with a mail client on my Palm Treo 750 phone and I must add that this is a Windows Mobile 5. I did read somewhere that WM 6 comes with Live Mail push technology so I hope they added a way to read WLCD email from within their Outlook Mobile application. I can still read the email by using Internet Explorer, but that is nowhere as efficient as using a Mail Client. Google does provide POP3 and you can read POP3 with any Mobile Mail Client. This is certainly a show stopper for me and that is why I am not going to port all of my domains until Microsoft adds Mobile Support for this.

Please note that all these comments are from my own experience. Some of my complaints might have a solution, but due to lack of documentation and online support I couldn't find one.

Comments (3) -

Cool,

Keep up the good work,

Thanks for writing about it

Reply

I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles. You obviously know what you are talking about! Your site is so easy to navigate too, I’ve bookmarked it in my favourites

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