Microsoft Announces Long-Awaited Hotmail Update
New smart organizing features for Hotmail
CREDIT: Microsoft Windows Live
Microsoft announced sweeping changes to its free email service, Hotmail, this week to help the company retain its lead over its competitors.
In the coming weeks, Hotmail users will be able to “sweep” away less important email, view links and attachments without leaving Hotmail, sync to their mobile phones and send large files without size restrictions.
The announcement was preceded by the release of Microsoft Office 2010 and Outlook Connector 14, a free plug-in that allows Hotmail users to bring their Hotmail content into Outlook.
According to Microsoft, Hotmail remains the leading free email service worldwide, with 360 million users, but both Yahoo Mail with its 220 million users and Google Gmail with its 180 million users are closing in fast.
"Our service wasn't doing the best job it could," said Microsoft Windows Live corporate VP Chris Jones at a media event on Monday at Microsoft's Market Street office in San Francisco. "We were just behind in some basic features."
People use email differently today than they did a few years ago, Jones said. Mail from contacts is only a quarter of the typical inbox today; the rest of the inbox includes mail from social networks (20 percent), personal business (including newsletters, receipts, and shipping information), and “other mail” (which is typically junk mail or graymail).
Microsoft also acknowledged the shift from computer to mobile devices. Today people want to not only read their email, but act on it wherever they are via their phone.
To that end, Microsoft highlighted three new features in its updated Hotmail service:
A new Hotmail tab called Sweep allows users to quickly clean up their inboxes. Emails can be “swept” to folders for safe keeping or the trash for deleting. Recurring email messages like newsletters can be designated for perpetual sweeping as well — do it once and those newsletters will be in a folder ready to read at the users’ choosing.
Hotmail offers new sorting features through partners to bring important emails to the top. Users can generate a list of emails from contacts and social networks, those with video or photo attachments and emails containing shipping information. Hotmail will offer the ability to view videos and photos with integration from services such as YouTube, Hulu and Flickr; accept invitations from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter; and track packages through the U.S. Postal Service, without leaving the email itself.
Hotmail will also allow users to editing Office documents in Hotmail messages through integration with Office Web Apps, the online version of Office 2010.
Hotmail has circumvented the problem of email attachment size limitations by sending and storing large attachments in the cloud, via Microsoft’s SkyDrive, which is part of the company's suite of online services known collectively as Windows Live. Users can send up to 200 photos, each up to 50 MB in size, in a single email. Recipients can view the file online regardless of the email service they use.
Also new to Hotmail is the ability to synchronize email, calendar, contacts and tasks using Exchange ActiveSync, available on nearly 300 million phones. According to Microsoft, Hotmail’s mobile inbox will offer a similar experience on both smartphones and those with simple browsers.
The mobile inbox will support in-line message previews, offline email viewing, conversation threading, the ability to flag messages, and more.
For those who use Outlook for work and Hotmail for personal email, Microsoft offers Outlook Connector 14, a free Outlook plug-in that will bring Hotmail messages and contacts into Outlook and apply Outlook filter settings to Hotmail. New users should check with their company’s network administrator before using the plug-in and realize that if approved, these emails may be subject to company oversight.
The current version of Hotmail offers email account aggregation for other services. For instance, Gmail and Yahoo Mail users may bring their accounts under the umbrella of Hotmail with a simple three step process found under “Show Options for Mail.” Once their emails are imported into Hotmail, the new features will be applied to all of the users’ accounts as soon as they become available.
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