Windows Mail is dead. Outlook Express is a distant memory. Microsoft's free Windows 7 email client of choice is now Windows Live Mail, and if you take a closer look at the program that's probably a very good move.

Live Mail has strong support for working with web mail accounts, for instance; a better contacts system in Windows Live Contacts; a useful RSS reader, quality calendar tool, inline spell checking, and more.

Some interface quirks and other odd design decisions means that getting all this working smoothly can take a while - but it doesn't have to be that way.

We've spent some time discovering setup tricks and shortcuts, Live Mail secrets and some of the best add-on apps around, and with our help you'll soon have total mastery over every Windows Live Mail feature.

Importing Accounts

When getting started with Windows Live Mail you'll probably want to import your account settings from another email client, and naturally you'll look first at the File > Import option. But that only allows the import of messages.

Don't give up, though. What you need to do instead is export your old account data to IAF files (Outlook Express, Windows Mail and Windows Live Mail all allow this). Then launch Windows Live Mail on the new system, click Tools > Accounts > Import, point the program at the *.IAF files and it will duplicate the accounts for you.

Working with Gmail

Creating new accounts in Windows Live Mail is easy, too (Tools > Accounts > Add > E-mail Account) - but the program isn't restricted to regular POP3 accounts. And so if you want the program to access your Gmail account, for instance, that's no problem at all, once you've learned a few key details.

Click the 'Add e-mail account' link, or Tools > Accounts > Add > E-mail Account.

Enter your Gmail email address and password in their respective boxes.

Enter your Display Name, your name as you'd like it to appear in the 'From' field of your Gmail emails. Then check the 'Manually configure server settings for e-mail account' box, and click Next.

Choose the 'IMAP' option for your incoming mail server, enter imap.gmail.com as the incoming server name, and set the Port to 993.

Check the 'This server requires a secure connection (SSL)' boxes for both the incoming and outgoing servers.

Set your outgoing server name to smtp.gmail.com, and the Port to 465.

Check 'My outgoing server requires authentication', and click Next > Finish to complete the job. Your Gmail folders will now appear. Select any you don't want to synchronise with Windows Live Mail, click Hide, and messages within those folders won't be downloaded. Otherwise, that's it - you'll be able to use Windows Live Mail to send and receive emails via your Gmail account.

Discover mail passwords

If you're creating new Live Mail accounts from scratch then you'll need to enter their passwords. And if you're at all like us, you've probably forgotten most of them. (Unless you use the same password for everything, of course, which you really shouldn't as it's a security nightmare.)

Fortunately there's an easy solution. Run a copy of Mail PassView on the PC containing an email client with all the details of your accounts, and the program will immediately display all their details: account name, server names and types, user names, and of course the passwords. The program works with Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail and Live Mail, Thunderbird and many other apps, so there's a very good chance it'll work for you.

Set the default email client

If you didn't make Windows Live Mail your default email client during installation, then you can do so at any time by clicking Tools > Options > General, and selecting 'Make Default' for 'This application is NOT the default Mail handler'.

Or, if you'd like to have the program to check whether it's the default mail program when it loads, but it doesn't do that any more, then you can restore this default behaviour with a quick Registry tweak. Simply launch REGEDIT, go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows Live Mail\mail, double-click No Check Default in the right-hand pane and set it to 1. (Create this if it doesn't exist; it's a DWORD32 value.)

Windows 7 email tips

ALWAYS LIVE: Set the default email program from Windows, or Live Mail's own Options dialog

Find important messages

Every good email client has to make it easy to locate the messages you need. And Windows Live Mail does this via its 'Quick views', revealing in a click your unread email, or unread messages from your contacts. You're not restricted to the default views, though, and others can be added in just a few seconds.

You'll occasionally receive some emails that are particularly important, for example: maybe they contain some information you'll need to act on later, or perhaps it's vital that they get a reply. You can highlight these messages by clicking the flag icon within a folder, but you'll still need to go browsing through those folders to stand a chance of spotting them.

The answer? Click 'Quick views', then the spanner icon to the right, check 'Flagged items', click OK, and a new 'Flagged items' view will appear. Click this whenever you like and you'll see only the important emails that you've highlighted, a quick and easy reminder of any messages that you still need to deal with.

Windows 7 email tips

FOUND: The right Quick View can highlight important messages in a click

View HTML source

If you want to view the HTML source of an email in Windows Live Mail, then the old Outlook Express trick still works: right-click the email, select Properties and clicking the Details tab will display the headers, while clicking Message Source displays the raw text in your default editor (probably Notepad).

This is a little inconvenient, though, and there's a much simpler alternative. Just select the message, then press Ctrl+F2 to view the source of the message body, or Ctrl+F3 to view the entire message source, headers included.

Windows 7 email tips

VIEW SOURCE: The ability to view the source code of your email is a useful security feature

Free up taskbar space

If you minimise Windows Live Mail under Windows 7 then annoyingly it remains on the taskbar, taking up valuable space.

One way to fix this is to right-click the Windows Live Mail shortcut, click the Compatibility tab, check the 'Run this program in compatibility mode for' box and select 'Windows Vista (Service Pack 2)'.

Now launch Live Mail, right-click its icon in the system tray, and select Hide Window When Minimised. And when you next minimise the program, it'll disappear from the taskbar. Right-click the Live Mail system tray icon for options to compose an email, create a calendar event, open the full program or close it down entirely.

This works just fine, however we're just a little nervous about telling the program we're running under Vista, when we're not: that could maybe lead to other problems later. A safer alternative might be to run a third-party tool to minimise the program on our behalf, and the Windows Mail Minimizer is an ideal candidate: compact, free and easy to use.

Windows 7 email tips

FREE SPACE: Minimising Windows Live Mail to the system tray frees up valuable taskbar real estate

Create an email in a click

Having freed up a little taskbar space with the previous tip, you might want to use that by creating an icon that will launch the Live Mail 'new email' window, automatically filling in the recipient's address, the Subject line and perhaps even a line of body text. (But if you'd rather keep taskbar clutter to a minimum then you can also create a shortcut as an alternative.)

To begin, right-click an empty part of the desktop, select New > Text Document, and rename the file to liveshortcut.exe. Drag and drop it onto the taskbar.

Now right-click the new pinned icon, right-click liveshortcut, click Properties, then enter something like this into the target box:

'C:\Program Files\Windows Live\Mail\wlmail' /mailurl:mailto:name@address.com?subject=Something&body=Hi%20there

Replace this path with the one to wlmail.exe on your system, if it's different, and change the recipient's address, subject and body text to suit your needs, or omit the subject and body parameters if they're not required. (If you prefer the shortcut approach, create a new shortcut and enter the above line as the shortcut's target location.)

Now enter 'C:\Program Files\Windows Live\Mail' in the Start In box, click OK, and you're done. Simply clicking this icon will fire up the New Email window for you, perfect if you're regularly sending messages to the same person.

Recovering emails

Windows Live Mail does a better job of avoiding corrupt emails than Outlook Express, but there may still be times when you find you can't view messages that you're sure were there earlier.

When this happens to us we use a copy of the free Mail Viewer (www.mitec.cz/mailview.html) to browse our message database. It runs on every version of Windows from 95 upwards, and can access Live Mail, Outlook Express 4, 5 and 6 email stores, Windows Mail, Live Mail and even Mozilla Thunderbird message databases. These can be searched in detail, there are HTML previews of messages, you can access and save attachments: if your emails aren't too damaged then the program should allow you to recover at least some of them.

Change the New Mail sound

Windows Live Mail allows you to turn off the 'new mail' notification sound, if you like, but it doesn't allow you to replace the default sound with one of your own. For that, you must go to the Control Panel Sounds applet, click the Sounds tab, then scroll to and click on New Mail Notification. Choose an alternative from the Sounds list (click Test to hear it), or click Browse to choose a suitable audio file of your own, in the WAV format, then click OK to make the change official.

Newsgroups in Windows Live Mail

Aside from emails, Windows Live Mail can also help you access newsgroups, simple online discussion groups that have been around almost since the beginning of the internet. They're not so popular now - web message boards are easier to use, and search - but plenty of people still use them, and if you can't find an answer to a problem on the web then they may be worth a try.

To begin, click Newsgroups, and if you've no other program set up to use them, click Yes to make Live Mail your default news client.

Click Add Newsgroup Account, enter your name as you'd like it to appear in any message you post, and click Next.

You're asked to type your email address at this point, but it'll only attract spam, so we'd recommend you enter something obviously false: steve@myisp.com, say. Click Next.

Enter news.aioe.org as your server (it's free), leave the 'My News Server Requires Me to Log On' box blank, click Next > Finish, and click Yes to view the available newsgroups.

Scroll down the list and find something that looks interesting: alt.windows7.general if you want to read or ask about Windows 7 issues, for instance. Double-click this, click OK and the newsgroup will appear under the news server name. Click the newsgroup name and you'll find a list of posts on the topic; you can browse what's on offer, or post something new yourself by clicking New > News Message. Though don't get carried away: news.aioe.org strictly limits you to 25 posts a day. See www.aioe.org for more on this and other restrictions.

Windows 7 email tips

NEWSGROUPS: Windows Live Mail makes it easy to read and post to newsgroups

Repairing Live Mail

If you're experiencing significant problems with Live Mail that you can't solve in any other way, then a repair installation might help.

Choose the 'Uninstall a Program' applet in Control Panel, scroll down and click on the entry for Windows Live Essentials. Choose 'Repair', click Continue, and wait while all Windows Live programs are repaired and updated.

The Windows Live Essentials tool can also be used to remove Windows Live Mail, if you decide you don't need it any more, or want to try a clean reinstall. Just choose the Uninstall option, click Continue, check the Mail box, click Continue again and Live Mail will be uninstalled.

Windows 7 email tips

FIXED: A repair installation can solve many odd Live Mail problems

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Liked this? Then check out 85 Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

Sign up for TechRadar's free Weird Week in Tech newsletter Get the oddest tech stories of the week, plus the most popular news and reviews delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register

Follow TechRadar on Twitter * Find us on Facebook