Microsoft Launches Free Hosted E-Mail

Internet domain owners can now outsource their e-mail and instant messaging to Microsoft .

The new service, Windows Live Custom Domains, lets domain name owners access MSN services without the need for a Passport, Microsoft’s star-crossed authentication system.

The new offering, available in beta, is part of Windows Live, Microsoft’s new hosted services center. Windows Live, announced November 1, also includes Web mail, a customizable personal start page and Windows Live Safety Center, an online security tune-up available for Windows machines, all in beta.

Domain owners can create up to 20 e-mail accounts, with a 250-megabyte inbox for each account. Microsoft will filter junk mail and scan and clean any viruses before delivering mail.

The service also connects with MSN services such as MSN Messenger and MSN Spaces.

Microsoft did not respond to a request for more details, but Windows Live Custom Domains likely is built on the Frontbridge technology that Microsoft acquired in July. FrontBridge specialized in managed services for secure enterprise e-mail and messaging. It was during that acquisition that Microsoft first began talking about delivering its software as a service, a concept it now calls “live software.”

Windows Live Custom Domains will be ad-supported, another model Microsoft has become bullish about.

In a blog entry, Omar Shahine, a Microsoft program manager, wrote, “Windows Live Custom Domains allows you to basically point your [mail exchange] record to us (Windows Live) and get free Windows Live Mail accounts, messenger accounts, and well anything you can use a passport for. No longer are any or domains necessary.”

Mail exchange records, or Mxes, are entries in the domain name database that identify the mail server responsible for handling e-mail for a particular domain.

The service provides an unobtrusive way for small businesses and individuals to maintain their existing Web hosts while connecting to MSN services.

Microsoft plans to offer free Web hosting for small businesses with Office Live, expected to launch early in 2006.

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