A univerally needed computer utility nobody seems to have come up with

One of the most annoying things to occur in the last 5 years of computing (courtesy of Microsoft, as you may have guessed) is the "innovation" that a Hotmail address that goes 30 days without being checked is suspended until the user logs back in again. I'm not sure who came up with this idiotic notion, but they seriously need to have their head examined.

I know somebody who used to have an email address. You could email her, she sometimes would email you back, when she travelled the world she exchanged this email address with you and you could communicate with her after she returned home. This entire system worked fairly well. Until something unpleasant happened.

She -- and I know the eggheads at Microsoft have trouble comprehending this -- didn't have a computer, and once never got around to visiting me or her parents or somebody else she knew with a computer for a few weeks. So what happened? Her Hotmail account was suspended: her address book remained, but she didn't really have most of the people she'd talked to in her address book since she had mails from them in her Inbox that she wasn't planning on deleting. Hundreds of highly personal (not in the dirty sense, but in the sense that they weren't cold business emails but stories of how the family was doing, or what Person X she met has been up to) emails, comprising of parts of her relationship with now-distant friends, vanished overnight. Dozens of email addresses that she was "saving" were...no longer saved.

Needless to say, she wasn't impressed by this. She dutifully logged in, nearly cried over the loss, and over the next month or two simply stopped caring about the internet entirely. [what's that like? -ed] Hotmail lost a customer, the internet lost a 20-something user, all because of this single boneheaded policy.

Is there not some better way to weed out non-used email addresses? Can't Hotmail do this for accounts not checked for a calendar year? 30 days seems more than a little bit excessive. For example, since Hotmail brought in this policy, I have gone on two vacations that have lasted for 30+ days. I ended up in both cases needing to run to an internet connection and login to my Hotmail addresses (I have quite a few...running into the double digits) lest I lose them. Every once and a while I still end up losing them: with that many addresses sometimes it hard to remember to check the more obscure ones that not many people know about (which is, of course, why I have them).

Which this morning got me to thinking: why on earth hasn't somebody created a server-side program where you can punch in your Hotmail addresses and have the system automatically log into them for you? Security minded people might not want this sort of thing, but it would be perfect for anybody who decides to take a monthlong holiday and has better things to do on a sandy beach than sitting in a stinky foreign internet cafe making sure that Microsoft doesn't delete moderately-important messages in punishment for not staying at the office. Also perfect for people like me (and contrary to the standard case, in this instance I believe there are a lot of people like me) who have quite a few Hotmail addresses and would like to keep "checking" them regularly even if I don't get around to reading the latest exciting newsletter sent to me by the Edmonton Centre NDP Riding Association.

There are plenty of programs to IMAP or look for new mails on Hotmail programs, ePrompter for example, but nothing that can sit in the background (ideally on a website's computer, so I don't have to leave mine on for when I go on vacation, but if I install one on a friend's for the vacation that might work) and just log in every 25 days to remind Hotmail that I still exist (in all of my forms).

I found another blog discussing this with a fairly active comment thread. A few of the comments I feel the need to address:

om, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last. frankly, there is no excuse for leaving valauable information on msn, gmail and the likes without having the most important stuff backed up, so stop flaming and blame yourself.

as mentioned above, use your msn account with messenger to avoid this in the future or even better, slam the door on microsoft.
First off, its always tempting to blame the user in this case, but we have to remember (and Hotmail does as well) that most people don't know much about computers or security. We may not like this fact, but that does not alter its fundamental truth. Some people like the girl I told you about above don't even own computers (or in her case, internet access), and therefore don't really have a fallback position. In the end, this is a horrendously dumb idea that needs to be fixed by somebody. As for the second note, having MSN does not automatically log you into Hotmail every time you sign in, it merely checks Hotmail (like ePrompter does) to tell you if there are new emails. If you ignore the new emails (or don't get any) for a month, your account is similarly shut down.

First of all, Sorry this happened to you. The only thing I can really do is:

1) Appologize
2) Tell you that we are working very hard on changing the current policy

We do not actually back up our site. That would be impossible. GMail also does not back up their site. They have redundancy on the network for failures to hardware.

When an account is deleted, it takes a few days for the data to make it’s way out of the system. In your case (I don’t know how long it was deleted) the chances of recovery are unlikley.

Having said all this, I can understand if none of what I am saying matters. All I can do is appologize for what happened, and for the rather restrictive and poor expiration policy and let you know that I don’t consider the current situation acceptable (see #2 above).

Given the size and scope of the service, decisions like this take a while to work through.


Omar Shahine
Windows Live Mail
This, naturally, is a fake.
Oh man oh man, got the same complaint here. Years of old emails, vanished. To the argument that “it’s a free service, you play by their rules,” can the counterargument be made that, since we’re subjected to ads every time we log in, from which Microsoft draws revenue, it’s not like we’re total freeloaders?
I say why not look at this from the opposite point of view: instead of saying "well its free, they can screw us around any way that they want", take the 2nd part of that and carry it to its logical conclusion: Microsoft wants us to be using Hotmail. It is in their best interests to keep this girl happy, or she and others like her will do as she ended up doing: saying "screw you Hotmail" and backing away from the internet entirely. Free service or not, this is not in M$'s interests. The same poster who I just quoted later said this:
It’s foolish to rely on a web-based email service as storage, but tons of us do it, and rather than punish our idiosyncrasies, Hotmail should have indulged. Gmail beat them to the punch. Gmail is everybody’s kindly, permissive, net-based grandma.
I don’t know who any of you are, but I just typed in: My whole hotmail inbox just got deleted- and you came up. I had years of letters in that file, including pretty much the entire correspondence from my first relationship. so, thank for providing such a shit service Microsoft. Thanks, also for making it really clear that you were about to delete me. Also, thanks for having the nerve to ask me what junk I want when I try to find my old emails.
I feel terribly stupid. I would rather have the robots at google read my crappy love letters; at least they let me keep them for a while.
this blog seems to have the right idea though.
Just logged in to find all of my emails gone. As most people, I didn’t use it because of how horrible it was but logged in every once in a while since it served as an archive of my emails over the past 5-6 years. I also signed up for Paypal with it and wanted to keep my contact email the same.

Atleast now I have the incentive to break all ties with it.
I can’t even believe it has been 30 days since I last logged into hotmail. It hasn’t been 30 days since I logged into messenger. My last 5 years of messages are gone. Sure it’s nothing I can’t live without but some good things, addresses, and I still legitimately used it on at least a monthly basis.
Hi. same things just happened to me. really ticked off. usualy i wont always go on the computer after ive just come in from work. and when i do try, sometimes msn just plays up big style and doesnt even let me sign in to my hotmail account! dont know if its just me or what!

i can see why hotmail is crap! 30 day limit! why the F@/K do they limit you to that when like you say other providers like yahoo and that give you atleast a couple of months! MSN has really gone OTT this time!
It happened to me too! All my emails since 2003 have been deleted. It’s insane! But what can I do? Can I get them back!?
I think you don’t even need to forget logging on for 30 days to get your emails deleted with Hotmail. I check my emails maybe 10 times a day. And every couple of days I loggon via MSN messenger too. Yesterday morning I could not log on because it said my password was wrong. I know it is not a hacker thing because it happened in the past as well because I was continuously logging on from different machines and there were web certificate issues (all bullshit) etc. Anyway I recovered my password using the secret question and logged on to the account. And then the big shock. All my emails were deleted even from the trash can folder. I have no idea what kind of stupid policy or bug could cause something like that. It is always the same Microsoft thinking it is smarter than the people using its products and continuously doing things behind closed doors. What can I say?
Are you guys saying there is no way to resurrect those emails back? And it is perfectly legal for MSN to purge emails with 30 days inactivity? I feel terrible of losing my 8 yrs emai history for this stupid policy, and I feel like I want sue them…
And then some people go a little over the deep end...sheesh. Sorry about the emails buddy, but I'm not sure a lawsuit is really your best response. Unless you think you could win a court battle against Microsoft!

I think the final lesson we can learn from all of this is that its quite the problem, and if Hotmail won't solve it, somebody else should. The closest I can find is IE Auto Login which looks a little suspicious to be trusting passwords to. I suppose that is the main reason nobody has done it: anybody with the desire to do so cannot be trusted. Alas.