Written by UKWDA on 01 August 2012
Microsoft is to rebrand Hotmail, its free web-based email service, as Outlook.com – a move widely accepted as a reinvigorated challenge to rival Google’s Gmail.
The company acquired Hotmail in 1997 from its founders Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith for £240 million. After the acquisition, Microsoft renamed the service as MSN Hotmail, followed by Windows Live Hotmail and more recently changed it back to just plain Hotmail.
The new Outlook.com is well designed: it’s clean, simple and easy to use - a significant improvement on the cluttered and clumsy Hotmail interface.
The rebranded service will include new features designed to make it easier to manage ever increasing levels of email and will eventually be fully integrated with Skype – the VOIP service acquired by Microsoft in 2011 – allowing users to make voice and video calls within Outlook.com.
Microsoft says the new service will automatically sort different types of emails, for example, newsletters and social updates will be filtered into their own categories, leaving the main inbox free for more important emails from contacts and friends.
Users will also be able to link their Outlook.com account with other services. A quote from the company’s blog states: "We are giving you the first email service that is connected to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, and soon, Skype”. It goes on to say “your personal email comes alive with photos of your friends, recent status updates and tweets that your friend has shared with you, the ability to chat and video call - all powered by an always up-to-date contact list that is connected to your social networks."
The company’s Office apps are also integrated which will likely help it win users from rival Google Docs.
Outlook.com will also address the problem of email attachment size limits by integrating with SkyDrive- Microsoft’s cloud storage service. Each user gets 7GB of SkyDrive storage space and any files attached to an email will be stored there, with just a preview of the attachment visible within the email itself. The preview will then link to the full version of the file.
The distracting banner ads that Hotmail uses have also been ditched – instead discreet ads are displayed to the right of the screen which users can hover over to reveal the full sized ad. The company has also taken a swipe at Google by stating that it will not be scanning emails for keywords to customise the ads displayed, although they have not yet explained how they are planning to target ads at users.
Microsoft spokesman, Chris Jones, describes Outlook.com as “a bold step, a brand new service built from the ground up”, but some industry commentators are playing down the improvements and suggesting that it’s just a cleaned-up user interface with Office integration.
Users of Hotmail will be able to keep their @hotmail.com address but will also have the option of using @outlook.com if desired. Existing Hotmail users can upgrade to Outlook.com from within Hotmail and new users can create an account at http://outlook.com
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