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Hot or Not: New Hotmail Is No Knockout

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UPDATED Hotmail, the leading web email provider, has coasted along for years with barely a feature update. But Microsoft (s MSFT) is finally planning a major release for later this summer and on Monday provided reporters with a preview. The modernized Hotmail will include new features include better email filtering, rich media viewing and document editing.

First of all, Microsoft is bringing Hotmail up to speed with the competition — namely, Google’s Gmail (s GOOG) — and offering increased storage, spam detection, conversation threading (but not by default), integrated chat, and a better mobile experience on platforms such as BlackBerry (s RIMM) and Nokia (s NOK).

The new Hotmail has no notable social features, unless you count photo-sharing. That’s a pretty strange omission. Yahoo Mail (s YHOO), which acquired Xoopit and has integrated a social news feed into the inbox, is far ahead in this department. And Google’s recent foray into innovation around email was Buzz, which after privacy issues at launch still hasn’t made itself that useful. Meanwhile, Xobni provides great context and social information around Outlook, and up-and-comer Etacts does similar things around Gmail (see our story from a couple days ago on Etacts’ first round of funding).

I’m of the thought that the next big thing in email is to make the inbox an app platform, where we can interact dynamically with our messages without opening another window. The new Hotmail has some inklings of this — for instance, through an “Active View” feature a USPS tracking code turns into a widget with delivery information displayed in the body of a message. Hotmail will also offer support for viewing and basic editing of Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents (though somewhat oddly, this functionality does not overlap with the recent launch of online document editing site in partnership with Facebook, which came from a separate team).

Here are some of Microsoft’s more interesting and unique feature additions to Hotmail:

– rich slideshow tools for photos attached to messages and links to albums on Flickr and SmugMug

– embedded videos from YouTube, Hulu and

– a Bing sidebar to easily add photos, maps and info such as movie times from the web. (This seems like it could be useful but is also totally weird — the demo example was to include clip art from the web in an email…is that really necessary?)

– a “Sweep” tool blocks newsletters by deleting all messages from that sender and blocking all future messages

– click on any name to view all from sender (one of my most-wanted Gmail tweaks, personally)

– Exchange ActiveSync for push email on mobile

The one implementation that seems a bit awkward for me is photo-sharing. While nice slideshow tools and increased attachment limits sound nice, the way this works in the new Hotmail is not something I’d use. The limit for total size of photos in a single message is now an astonishing 10 gigabytes. How does Microsoft go so high? It doesn’t actually transfer the pictures. Rather, it hosts them in the cloud on SkyDrive.

Here’s how it works: Recipients click through on the URL for the photos (even if they’re not on Hotmail). They must have Silverlight installed to view photos online; if not, they can download the attachments directly. The only people who get access to the picture URL are the recipients of the email. Invited users can tag people in the photos and add their own to the album if they have a Windows Live ID. Then, SkyDrive deletes the album three months after you post it (you’re allowed to extend this period indefinitely if you choose to).

Microsoft says this makes sense because many people email each other pictures, and most recipients only view them soon after they’re sent. In today’s Hotmail, 95 percent of storage is attachments, and 55 percent of attachments are photos. But personally I’d rather keep that nearing unlimited storage in my inbox, where attachments live for as long as I want them to. If I want to put pictures in the cloud, I’ll put them on Facebook or Flickr, where they can live within a connected context. But maybe that’s just me. If they removed the default three-month expiration I’d probably have less of an issue.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson responded to this story via email, noting that the new Windows Live Messenger, which wasn’t prominently featured at the event, will include the ability to connect with and update social networks including Facebook, MySpace and Twitter from the Hotmail home page. She also said that visitors to SkyDrive photo albums who don’t have Silverlight installed will be able to view pictures online but not in the same animated slideshow.

Related content from other GigaOM sites:

– Email: The Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerrated (sub req’d)

– Open Thread: Could a Better Hotmail Tempt You Away from Gmail?

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26 Responses to “Hot or Not: New Hotmail Is No Knockout”

    • Totally agree with AT and Agnes. All this change has slowed down my productivity trying to learn how to use this “hoto photo” update. Just trying to copy and paste pics that arent thumb size in my pictures is an ordeal. They should not have even messed with what was working fine. Quit acting techonosexual fancy, hotmail and just go back to simple solutions.

  1. The way pictures are handled is stupid. The preview picture is tiny which means you either have to download all the pictures all the time to view them or install more bloatware(Silverlight) to view them. Time to make the switch to Gmail I think.

  2. Ernesto

    Apparently I’m the only one who can’t stand Gmail, and this is interesting to me. Gmail loads 3 times as slow wherever I go compared to Hotmail, I can’t stand the Gmail UI, I much prefer Hotmail’s, and I don’t even know 1000 or 6500 people so filling up contacts isn’t an issue at all for me. I don’t use external email programs except Windows Live Mail because frankly, I don’t need to, so Hotmail gets the job done, way better than Gmail ever has.

    Lastly, and here’s the part I don’t get… I don’t get any spam on my Hotmail account, and without even using it, I get about 3 spam emails a week on my Gmail account.

    I really don’t get where the anti-Hotmail sentiment comes from, or calling it aged or whatever, because to me, it’s completely backwards. At one point in time, many years back, Gmail appeared like the new thing to me, but after the last major Hotmail update, Gmail is completely a thing of the past for me. Guess it’s just point of view though.

  3. What about IMAP?

    MSN/Hotmail only started supporting POP about two years ago — nearly a decade after POP was obsolete.

    My mom gets both her G-Mail and her Hotmail e-mails in her Apple mail client.

    While G-Mail, configured for IMAP, works flawlessly, the POP service is always broken whenever I visit her. I figure it coincides when somebody sends her a large attachment (video, power point file, etc), or some message gets corrupted, which can cause problems with POP.

    Because Hotmail/POP stops working, she is force to go back to Hotmail’s crappy web interface. I’d like for her to be able to get her e-mail in one place (the desktop client) without hassle. But Microsoft seems to be about a decade behind the curve on this.

  4. If Apple ever offers free messaging: you can only send messages from an Apple computer to another Apple computer, any pictures sent though this system of people with less than their bodies fulled covered will be erased out, and if Steve Jobs wakes up one day and decides that all words that start with the letter S is banned, well, there goes Swiss.

  5. This is the most absurd email review I have ever read.

    First of all, hotmail sux because IT SUCKS. It will continue to SUCK for as long as the SUN is still on fire.

    Can you even look at that UI without wanting to throw up? I cant.

    And thats why it sucks besides the fact that MS cant make ANYTHING right anymore.

    Social networking in my email yeah that worked pretty good for buzz. WE ALL WANT THAT MAN!

    Please your pathetic.

  6. If they get mobile Active Sync right I’ll go back to Hotmail. Right now the Gmail implementation of Active Sync is broken and it’s driving me nuts! End of the day the provider that gets mobile support right wins me over.

  7. anselm

    click on any name to view all from sender (one of my most-wanted Gmail tweaks, personally)

    If I understand your right, this is something you can do in gmail by rolling over a contacts name wherever it appears, and selecting “recent conversations”. AFAIK, this shows all conversations with that contact, most-recent first.

  8. I was hoping for something a bit more than this. The new Office Web Apps are pretty impressive — basically web version of the desktop software — so I was thinking that Hotmail would take more cues from Outlook 2010 to provide an integrated Office-like experience in the cloud. Doesn’t look like that’s the case. In particular, Outlook 2010 includes a “Social Connector”, so for that not be in Hotmail seems like a strange omission. Still, the new Hotmail would have had to have been amazing to tempt me away from Hotmail, given the pain of switching.

    We discussed what Hotmail would have to do to tempt users back from Gmail on WWD last week:

    • Hotmail completely integrates the new Office Web Apps; get a document in email, cick to edit it in the Office Web Apps. It doesn’t integrate with Facebook Docs because that’s a pilot project using older code that doesn’t have the 25GB storage space of SkyDrive. Actually, I rather want the Active Views from Hotmail in Outlook – seeing previews of the photos on Flickr that someone has mailed you a link to is a huge timesaver ;-)

  9. “The new Hotmail has no notable social features” – though not new, Windows Live displays your social stream form your contacts that choose to share twitter, facebook etc updates.

  10. markkb

    “has coasted along for years with barely a feature update.”

    Er, I’m not sure which universe you live in, because over here Hotmail gets a feature update about once a year. But otherwise, good post.

  11. is about to announce something for Gmail that will keep me on Gmail for a long time too. You’re right, the addons for Gmail and the little things like conversion of spreadsheets and Word docs keeps me happy on Gmail. Plus, I have almost 1,000 Gmail filters. Not likely to move those over to Hotmail anytime soon, not to mention my Gmail address is +everywhere+ on the Internet and Gmail is the address I use to sign into dozens of web services/sites around the Web.

    • I asked the Hotmail team about where they are hoping for growth. One answer (at least in the U.S.) is that they want to convert AOL users, since they’re losing share. Microsoft is also offering full import services with TrueSwitch and importing from POP if you want to keep your existing email address. And lastly, they are planning a big marketing campaign — not on the Bing scale, but big — to attract customers. Something about “what’s old is new again.”

      So no, probably none of those would entice you as a Gmail power-user.