Executable files could be attached to messages received by earlier versions of Outlook Express and rendered only as harmless picture attachments. Even worse, insidious virus architects found that they could launch harmful scripts in the background of a users session without her knowledge. Because the default behavior of Outlook Express is to automatically open the first message in the Inbox, regardless of the preview pane settings, multitudes of viruses emerged to exploit this threat. Unfortunately for many, a number of these efforts were met with great success (Nimda, anyone?).
Nevertheless, Outlook Express has always maintained a solid following. As a news and mail application, it is easily a favorite among home and small-office users for managing mail for Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) and Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). Outlook Express had a wizard-driven introduction to usher a new user down the road of configuration and quickly provided users an Outlook experience for free.
As Outlook Express continued to be refined, the application began to incorporate the functionality of supporting multiple mail and user accounts, which solidified its place in the home PC used by the entire family. It was not long before Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) were added to the list of supported protocols. Even Mac users found the opportunity to explore the utility in a version free for download when Microsoft chose to support the application for those running classic Mac OSes (8.1 to 9.x).
Aside from this sidestep into the Mac world, Outlook Express has remained an application built into the Microsoft OSes and browser, something you could expect to find answering every hyperlink with an @ symbol as you browsed with Internet Explorer.
Windows Mail is the next iteration of this product. Although it is absolutely a version of Outlook Express, carrying with it many visual similarities to the Outlook product, Windows Mail is fundamentally a different application. Although Outlook Express is tied to Internet Explorer, Windows Mail is more tightly integrated into the OS. This may well be serving the purpose of delineating the product from its predecessors as well as making it more difficult for antitrust lawsuits to be filed against Microsoft for bundling products into its OS. Windows Mail is not designed as a plug-in or addition to Internet Explorer, and though it is very much its own application, it is now a fundamental component of the OS itself.
NOTE The integration of applications such as Outlook Express and Internet Explorer has been both a blessing and a curse for Microsoft. Although considered a sacred cow for Microsoft in the States, the European Union charged that Microsofts bundling of software presented an unfair and almost impossible challenge for vendors of competing software. Although a version of Windows XP was released that did not include Media Player (Windows XP N), the EU required the software giant to pay an initial fine of $613 million.