Microsoft Lets Hotmail Turns Select E-mails Into Apps

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Microsoft (s msft) is rolling out a new feature in Hotmail that creates interactive e-mails that bring the Web into messages. The update, part of a pilot program with Orbitz (s oww) and (s mww), allows those companies to send e-mails that don’t just point users back to a website; they allow users to fill out forms and conducts searches without having to leave Hotmail.

The feature allows companies to write JavaScript code into their emails, turning them into small live widgets with up-to-date information. The update builds off Hotmail’s Active Views platform, which allowed e-mail users to see a preview of pictures or videos in an email. Microsoft said the advance is the next logical step for e-mail, as it evolves from text and rich HTML to JavaScript.

Currently e-mail users often receive HTML ads that direct users back to websites. But the information in the ads can often be out of date by the time a readers uses it, and the task of clicking through to a web site is enough to discourage some users. But by keeping it all in the e-mail, marketers can eliminate one hurdle in engaging users. For example, an Orbitz customer can start browsing for hotel choices from an e-mail. Completing the purchase will apparently still require a visit to, but much of the hunting will occur in Hotmail.

Microsoft said other partners like Netflix (s nflx) and LinkedIn will also join the program soon, allowing people to manage their Netflix account or accept LinkedIn invitations from their inbox.

One of the problems that has kept this from happening in the past was security concerns over JavaScript. There has been no way in the past to run JavaScript code without isolating and allowing it to be used maliciously. But Microsoft said the Active Views platform is secure and allows protects users from potential attacks. Microsoft is reportedly only allowing trusted services to use this feature and will use OAuth to connect user inboxes to third-party services. This could be a major issue if Microsoft is proven wrong on this and consumers have their e-mails and their computers compromised. That will be one of the things Microsoft will likely monitor with its pilot program.

It’s unclear how much use non-Hotmail users will get out of this advance or how many companies will be allowed to leverage this tool. For now, only Hotmail users who sign up for interactive emails from the participating companies will receive them. But if Microsoft can prove this is a secure way to bring this functionality to e-mail users without opening them up for attacks, look for other e-mail providers to go down this route.

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Ann Onymous

Yay! A reason to completely block emails coming from hotmail! Anyone who is rude enough to send an application through email has no business in my inbox.

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