Australians should have access to Microsoft's overhauled Hotmail Web mail solution within months - but will it be enough to catapult the company ahead of Google and Yahoo!?
If you’re a Hotmail user, check your inbox regularly: Australians are expected to have access to a broad range of new Windows Live Hotmail features within months as Microsoft kicks off the staggered worldwide rollout of Hotmail Wave 4, an overhauled webmail platform that represents the software giant's attempt to regain momentum in the face of threats from rivals Yahoo! and Gmail.
With a claimed 320 million users and 8 billion messages traversing its systems daily, Hotmail
is hardly suffering from obscurity (although it's not clear how many of these putative users are actually anonymous spam-sending accounts). But its current iteration, in place for some time now, has fallen behind more-progressive competitors that are now offering Webmail users features like in-line viewing of videos and integrated access to document viewing and editing.
Microsoft has addressed these shortcomings with new features including ActiveView, which allows the previewing of videos, photo attachments as slideshows, and the handling of social-media transactions like friend requests – all without leaving the Hotmail interface. The new system is also tightly integrated with Microsoft's SkyDrive
online storage service and Bing search engine, incorporating inline Bing searches and the ability to send up to 200 photos of 50MB each, all of which are stored on the user's SkyDrive.
Social-media roots extend deep throughout Hotmail Wave 4, with a new Social Networks filter designed to automatically process social-network notification emails. This filtering is part of a broader approach to help users keep email Inboxes under control: the new Sweep feature, for example, allows incoming emails from certain recipients to be automatically moved into a specified folder, and can be automatically applied into the future.
Following the lead of Google's hugely successful Google Documents productivity suite, Hotmail Wave 4 will also feature close links to the company's new Microsoft Office Live (www.officelive.com) productivity suite, which allows for in-browser viewing, editing, and versioning of documents that can be seamlessly shared through Hotmail. Rather than downloading, saving, editing, resaving and reattaching emails, messages are automatically tracked, versioned, and attached as necessary.
Whether the new Hotmail will win back users, however, remains to be seen: many users prefer Gmail because it can be used with conventional email clients through use of POP3 and IMAP standards, while Yahoo! has a massive user base in the US. Microsoft's Australian partnership with Nine, however, has made it by far and away our biggest Webmail provider, with approximately 8m accounts; how this number will change with the new version remains to be seen.
Australians can expect the new features of Hotmail to be rolled out progressively over coming months, although NineMSN staff wouldn't be drawn on a date – except to say that it will be “a lot earlier than Christmas. We’re very confident that the changes we’ve made are reliable and stable, and in coming months users will see the benefits of Hotmail,” said Raphael Aquino-Jose, the company’s senior product manager for Hotmail and Messenger.
Microsoft has outlined the new features of Hotmail in a blog post
.Will the new features of Hotmail convince you to switch over? Or have you already left Hotmail for Yahoo!, Gmail, or elsewhere?