If you use Hotmail it's probably because you've always used Hotmail. Let's face it Microsoft's web based email hasn't done itself many favours in recent years, but that all looks set to change...
The Redmond giant has today dropped Hotmail into the 21st century with a massive overhaul of its look and features, so let's break them down.
The first thing that will strike you is 'Hotmail highlights'. This takes a leaf from Outlook allowing users to now see new emails, social network updates, appointments and reminders in a single place when they log in. Alongside this is 'Active views' which borrows from Gmail allowing linked content from Hulu, YouTube and Flickr, amongst others, to be viewed directly from within the email. Also placing a nod towards Google is implementation of the long awaited 'Conversation view' that enables emails to be grouped by thread - this can be enabled or disabled with a single click.
Other areas of catch-up include the ability to link Gmail and Yahoo! email accounts to Hotmail and send emails using those addresses from directly within Hotmail, filters that can isolate emails with photos, documents, videos, etc and an improved search implementation with auto-complete suggestions. Microsoft Office documents can be edited directly from Hotmail too thanks to Google Docs-style functionality.
In terms of storage as before new users will get a 5GB storage allowance and this will automatically expand to beyond 20GB if they need it. Nice, but where the real improvement comes is attachments with up to 10GB now attachable to a single message. The caveat is individual attachments are limited to 50MB, but if you want to attach up to 200 of them to a single message you can. I wish your recipients' mail servers good luck!
On the mobile side a new touch-optimised interface has been added for accessing Hotmail by smartphones, there's HTML support, a redesigned calendar and finally push email, contact and calendar support for handsets. Contacts can be merged with those from Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Gmail, Yahoo! and AOL as well and comments posted to Facebook directly from Hotmail.
Given these features will make Hotmail even more attractive to hackers, the finally area of improvement is its much derided security. New spam fighting technology claims just four per cent of inbox emails getting through will be spam, though that's still way below my experience with Gmail. There is recognition for 'Trusted senders' (genuine eBay, banking, etc emails are identified with safety logos), full session SSL encryption and the addition of 'single-use codes': one time passwords which can be sent via SMS to users when looking to access their Hotmail accounts on public computers.
In all then we have a mixture of long overdue, interesting and genuinely exciting new features here. Hotmail has been something of a laughing stock in recent years, but with these major changes it looks like it won't be the butt of geeky jokes for much longer. A video preview of the new Hotmail system can be found at the link below and the upgraded service will go live worldwide "in mid-summer".
Link: Hotmail Preview