Your Hotmail inbox is one of the default Hotmail email folders, alongside the "Junk [Mail]", "Drafts", "Sent [Messages]", and "Deleted" folders. Unlike the other default folders, your inbox is essential, since it receives all email messages that are not perceived as junk mail (spam). In this tutorial, mostly targeted at beginners with Microsoft's Windows Live Hotmail email service, we will dissect the standard inbox and show you what each portion of the screen does. We use here the terms "Hotmail inbox" in their widest meaning, encompassing everything visible on screen when you are inside your inbox, including content you see when inside other folders as well.
Here is a screenshot of the typical Hotmail inbox, with all portions visible: the section behind each number displayed is explained below.
The top portion of your Hotmail inbox, also visible when you are inside other email folders, is the Windows Live toolbar: it includes access to external sites and functionality like "Messenger" (Microsoft's Windows Live IM client), "Office" (the ability to create and open Microsoft Office documents from within Hotmail), "Photos" (the ability to upload, share, and view picture albums online), and "MSN" (Microsoft's main online portal / website).
Further down the screen, but still above your emails, you will see the Hotmail toolbar: it is "contextual" in that the command it displays are shown or hidden depending on the current context (which email folder is selected, for example). Here is the default Hotmail toolbar you will see when you are inside your inbox:
The first column on the left displays all email folders in your email account, with the current folder highlighted (your Hotmail inbox, by default) in a color that varies based on the Hotmail theme you have selected. The folders you see there include the five standard folders mentioned earlier, as well as any folder you added yourself (a later tutorial will show you how to create "custom folders" in your Hotmail.com account).
The second column on the left shows you all emails contained inside the email folder currently selected (your Hotmail inbox, in the case of the screenshot shown above). Notice that icons accompany each message, to indicate its importance, whether you replied to it and/or have forwarded to someone else, if it contains file attachments, etc. A separate tutorial will delve with more depth on Hotmail's iconography.
Tip: both the email folders column and the email messages column can be resized by dragging their right border (or top border, if you have customized Windows Live Hotmail to display the Reading Pane below your emails, instead of on the right hand site). Here is an example of resizing the email folders column:
Notice how the mouse pointer (cursor) becomes a double-headed arrow when you move your mouse above a resizable element on the screen.
When no email message is selected, the area covered by numbers 4 and 5 is blank; when multiple email messages are selected, it indicates the number of emails currently selected, as shown on the screenshot below:
When an email is selected, this area includes basic "email headers" - in other words, the email title (subject line), the message sender, email recipient(s), date, etc.
Finally, the content of the selected message ("email body") is displayed at the bottom of the Reading Pane - both in your Hotmail inbox and any other folder that contains emails. This behavior remains the same whether the Reading Pane is vertical (docked on the right of the screen), or horizontal (displayed at the bottom, below the listing of email messages inside the current folder).
This concludes our brief tour of the default Hotmail inbox; as you'll learn in the next tutorials, quite a bit of the inbox and other email folders can be customized to your liking - but the basics we outlined on this page remain true, and applicable.