First things first: Yes, you can keep your @hotmail email address, if you want.

Microsoft, however, will be leaving the Hotmail brand behind.

The new Outlook.com inbox. (Click to expand image.) Credit: Microsoft.

The company this morning is rolling out a new email service, called Outlook.com, that will replace Hotmail when it’s launched in finished form. The new Outlook.com has a cleaner, streamlined interface that has proven much easier to use than Hotmail in my initial testing.

It’s the end of an era for the famous (and at times infamous) Hotmail service. Hotmail pioneered Web-based email prior to its acquisition by Microsoft in 1997. In making the move to Outlook.com, Microsoft’s online team will leverage the brand of the company’s widely used Outlook software, while seeking to bring its consumer email service into modern world of tablets, smartphones and other devices.

“We’ll have one clean story across Microsoft for how you get mail,” said Microsoft’s Dharmesh Mehta. “Outlook equals mail from Microsoft.”

The move is Microsoft’s latest attempt to combat the rise of Gmail. Hotmail has long been the largest webmail service worldwide, but Google’s email service has been climbing quickly. Hotmail’s worldwide market share fell 4 percent over the past year, slipping to 324 million users in June, while Gmail rose 17 percent to 278 million users over the same time period, according to comScore Networks.

In the U.S., Gmail is now ahead of Hotmail, and continuing to climb.

Source: comScore Networks

For years Hotmail was synonymous with spam, and even though Microsoft has made significant strides on that front, the Hotmail brand continues to be hampered by that history in the minds of many users.

The shift away from the Hotmail brand is part of a trend for Microsoft’s online group, which is also ending its use of the “Windows Live” name for its online services.

Gmail’s rise underscores the growing role of consumer services in shaping the technologies used by businesses. The growth of Gmail has helped Google make inroads in online productivity applications, as people with Google accounts adopt the search giant’s web-based storage, word processing and spreadsheet apps — posing a serious competitive threat to Microsoft’s profitable Office franchise.

The new Outlook.com is more than a rebranding of Hotmail. I’ve been testing it out in advance of the public preview, and as someone who has often struggled with Hotmail’s cluttered interface, the new experience has been refreshing. The changes in the web interface start with simple menu bar across the top that provides a consistent way to access different tools and commands. The rest of the interface has also been cleaned up and simplified.

Overall, Outlook.com feels more like an app than a website — far from a new approach in the industry, but still a step up from Hotmail.

Users can chat with Facebook friends and initiate calls on Microsoft’s Skype service from inside Outlook.com. The service integrates with Microsoft’s SkyDrive online storage service. The address book connects to services including Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and LinkedIn to create a universal directory of the user’s contacts. The Word, Excel and PowerPoint web apps are also integrated into Outlook.com for opening and editing documents.

A Skype chat inside the Outlook.com interface. (Click to expand image.)

Email, calendar and contacts from Outlook.com will synchronize with Windows 8 when people use a Microsoft account to sign in to the new Windows version. Microsoft says the Outlook.com interface should work well across different screen sizes, and with touch screen or keyboard.

The standard display ads in Hotmail have been replaced with text-based ads in the right sidebar of Outlook.com that can show images when someone hovers over them — a new ad format that Microsoft is launching. Microsoft says the ads won’t appear at certain times when it doesn’t make sense, such as when a user is reading or responding to a message from someone in their address book.

From a privacy standpoint, Microsoft is also continuing to promise that its algorithms won’t use the contents of personal email messages to help target ads, an area where the company has sought to publicly distance itself from Google’s ad practices.

Users will have the option of moving to new @outlook.com email addresses when the Outlook.com public preview launches today, or they can keep their existing @hotmail or @live email addresses. They’ll still be able to use the old Hotmail interface during the preview, but eventually Microsoft will upgrade the entire service.

[Follow-up: How to get a new @outlook email address]

So in the end, why did Microsoft decide to dump Hotmail?

“We really did want to have one mail from Microsoft,” said Mehta. “We think that’s helpful in simplifying.”

At the same time, he acknowledged the branding challenges faced by Hotmail.  “For some people, it was not about, “Would I got to Hotmail.com?’ It was, ‘Would I put @hotmail on my resume?’ ” he said. But when it comes to @outlook.com, he added, “people love the brand.”

Here is a Microsoft video walthrough of the new service.

Top graphic: Original by Microsoft, with GeekWire additions.

Latest News

Comments

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    A couple/few random thoughts and points.

    1. Looks like you can also keep @msn.com addresses (yes, I STILL have one of those from 1995).

    2. You can upgrade today it looks like. Go into Hotmail and select the options in the upper right and “Upgrade Now” was there for me at least.

    3. The look is cleaner on the surface. Though how I’m supposed to know that a smiley face in a text bubble means “messaging” is beyond me. I thought it was to insert emoticons. But under the hood it’s still pretty chaotic. The “Settings” page is unchanged and still bewildering in its complexity.

    4. There is STILL no two factor authentication option. It was 5 years ago that the authentication cookie hijacking attack was demoed at BlackHat. Gmail, Facebook and other major identity services now offer true two factor authentication. Hotmail and Twitter both still don’t, which at this point is inexcusable for a major platform (especially with the resources that Microsoft has).

    • http://twitter.com/Outlook Outlook

      We don’t have two-factor auth, but we have single use codes, require strong passwords, and good server-side detection. We’ve discovered that only a small number of people actually use two-factor auth so we are putting a lot of investment and R&D on this subject to find a strong solution that EVERYONE can use, not just the 1% of users that figure out how to navigate a bunch of additional setup options.

      • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ncr MHazell

        I use single use codes, I think that is a very neat feature. I use it every time on public machines/school computers.

        Also, is Opera 12 support coming along? It is always good to support all major browsers.

  • Guest

    We’re cautiously optimistic about this change. Outlook conjures an image of work, whereas Hotmail and other casual mail brands like Yahoo! and Google evoke fun, casual mailing. The confusing “Outlook Express” has already been retired in favor of “Windows Mail” (and later “Windows Live Mail”).

    In conclusion, we would recommend that if the Hotmail name is to be retired, the replacement name should be more descriptive. Something like “Microsoft Mail for Personal, Fun Use” would be more appropriate.

    • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

      It’s funny because the “work” association ends up creating a legacy/familiarity issue.

      In Berkeley’s public discussion of their comparison of Google and Microsoft’s cloud mail bids is a a tidbit that indicated that Outlook was a positive…..for their older users (because of familiarity). The younger users though were more familiar with GMail.

  • PassingBy
  • guest

    Translation: MS let the hotmail brand become toxic and finally realized no amount of feature change was going to rehabilitate the brand. Like everthing MS it comes way too late, but it’s the right decision. I haven’t used the Outlook UI yet, but their problem wasn’t primarily feature set in my experience. It was negative brand image.

    Now if they would just change Windows Phone to Metro…

  • guest

    where is the mobile client? ios? android? windows phone?

    • Guest

      It’s e-mail. You don’t need a separate mobile client for every e-mail provider. All the protocols are published; you can use hundreds of clients.

  • mikeschr

    I think one of the things the Hotmail brand has had to overcome was the difficulty of using it with anything other than IE and Windows. I don’t know if that’s been the case recently, but it was some years ago, and I never went back.
    Retiring the Hotmail brand sounds like a good idea to me. I assume Outlook.com doesn’t suffer from that accessibility problem.

  • Roooting

    That just sounds like a very good plan to me man wow.

    Total-Privacy dot US

  • http://www.facebook.com/Cookerhiker Bill Cooke

    what about @msn.com which is what I use for everything.

    • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ncr MHazell

      @msn.com is considered to be a Hotmail address, so it will work in the outlook.com interface.

      • Fats

        Glad you answered that, thanks!

    • Fats

      Glad you asked this, thanks!

  • Prithvi

    So is @hotmail.com automatically = @outlook.com OR do I have to sign in separately to get a outlook.com id for myself?

    • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ncr MHazell

      That is an interesting question. I guess we’ll have to wait for Microsoft to release some more info.

  • http://www.facebook.com/FLGRooney Josh Dickerson

    Question: how will the import to Outlook on desktop work? I use the Hotmail connector now

  • world’s greatest orator

    I love that snob appeal was the real reason Dharmesh coughed up when pressed. The first guy to capitalize on elitist vs. down-market e-mail was Zuckerberg, and of course LinkedIn copied his brainstorm there right away

  • http://techmansworld.blogspot.com/ncr MHazell

    I am a user of Hotmail, currently testing the Outlook.com interface in preview. I love Hotmail. I don’t want Microsoft to get rid of it, but to merge it at least. They should also leave an option for the old interface just in case, because there is always going to be that person that doesn’t like change.

  • Jose

    I’ve had my Hotmail account since 1998. I’ve dropped my yahoo account about decade ago but kept @hotmail. I also have a gmail account, but i couldn’t imagine why any who is still using a @hotmail would switch to @outlook.

    Really microsoft that’s as bad as thinking desktop users want to use the metro view (yes I’m calling it Metro) in Windows 8. If I switch my main email, I would switch to google not another microsoft product.

    How many years have folks with @hotmail dealt with sorry compatibility issues with MS Outlook and poor compatibility with Windows Mobile? Luckily I was grandfathered in pre-paid version of hotmail and can use POP.

    Microsoft just fix your back-end and allow @hotmail to use the same servers and services of @Outlook.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Change for the sake of change is really not about user benefits but rather payola or massaging some geek designer’s ego. I keep getting the bottom line in outlook saying your mail is in a POP Folder..did u mean that? Like WTF is that all about? I just want inbox/sent/drafts and a spam box…POP is for grandfathers as far as i know… why do they wanna fix what ain’t broke?

      • Lindsay Wilson

        Also “outlook express” has been around for years as microsoft’s inhouse email on user’s p/c… why have we now “two outlooks?” is this some sort of pea under shells trick or plain insanity?

  • Stubbie45

    So Why does not the **@outlook.com become compatible with Microsoft Office Outlook? I have a **@outlook.com email address and have not been able to add it as an account in my Outlook (Office 2010)!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.flugstad Lisa Flugstad

    Outlook sucks, the format sucks, it isn’t user friendly, it loses data, it doesn’t connect to Craigslist reply bars, basically.. MSN is shoving poo down our throats and calling it chocolate. Socialist countries do things like this.. NO CHOICE… didn’t realize that MSN was a Socialist network.. guess I was WRONG>

  • cubicle88

    MS Hotmail was very slow and unresponsive at times now Outlook appears and no improvement, in fact some things are worse. I used to be able to cut and paste email lists from Excel and that can’t be done in Outlook. I am removing my email from Outlook and using Yahoo

  • Annie

    Why is the new Outlook email so bad? I’ve had no problems for all the years I used Hotmail but now it freezes, is slow, keeps telling my (in a red banner) that there appears to be a problem and I should retry to send my message. Potential recipients then tell me they either didn’t receive anything, or that 3 copies of the same message turned up! It has recently removed one message into my deleted folder whilst I was reading it. All in all, a return to the dark ages. Several of my friends have changed to Gmail and recommend I do the same. As this is probably a deliberate attempt by MSoft to alienate users and end their email service altogether (I can’t imagine they could be this incompetent by accident) I may well do so.

  • kacey young

    Hi on a related issue , since the switch over to Outlook I am having problems sending emails in so far as it seems to be taking ages for the command send to be responded to. There is just a continuous sending message and the circle of dots revolving. can anyone help Thanks

  • Chuck

    Windows Live Team Outlook Services is sending out requests for ‘cleanup’ of their email accounts. Looks like spam to me.

Job Listings on GeekWork