The New Hotmail: Great Features, Less Clutter

Farhad Manjoo says the new Hotmail is hot to trot:

My favorite part of the new Hotmail is the way it lets you efficiently sort through e-mail clutter. There are half a dozen “quick view” buttons built into your inbox—click one and you’ll see all the recent messages containing photos, another for all the mail with attachments, another for online shopping shipping notices, and another for “social updates”—the messages we get every day from sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I especially like the button that shows all the messages from people in your address book. This can be invaluable when you first get to your inbox in the morning—it filters out everything but the notes from people you know, which tend to be the most important. (I was able to pull in my contact list and archived e-mail from Gmail. Hotmail, like Gmail, has several ways to connect to and import your data from other online services. I tested it out with several tens of thousands of messages in my inbox, and I found its searching and filtering capabilities just as good as Gmail’s.)

Gmail partisans will point out that Hotmail’s quick views aren’t unique; you could set up many of the same features in Gmail using labels and filters. That’s true, but it misses the point. In Hotmail, you don’t have to do any setup; quick views and other helpful features are there for everyone, by default. The same philosophy carries over to automatic filtering rules. Select several different messages, click “Sweep,” and you’re able to remove those messages—and all future similar messages—from your inbox. Yes, you can do the same thing in Gmail, but the process takes several screens and asks you to go through a bunch of checkboxes. It’s not exactly daunting, but it’s not dead-simple, either.

With SkyDrive, it competes on size:

I also loved the way Hotmail handles attachments. Gmail won’t let you send files larger than 25 MB per message. Hotmail, which integrates with Microsoft’s online storage system SkyDrive, lets you send up to 10 GB of attachments. Select an album of photos to send to your family, for instance, and they will all upload to Skydrive. Your recipients will get a link to an online album, where they can see a slideshow or download all the photos.

The innovation is continuity:

Gmail won my heart because it seemed to be designed for power e-mailers—people who get hundreds of messages a day, who use a range of devices to check their messages, and who need (or want) to keep all their e-mail forever. To win that audience, Gmail broke with the past. Not only did it look radically different from other Web e-mail clients; it instituted a range of features—conversation view, “labels” instead of folders, the idea of “archiving” mail instead of deleting it—that diverged widely from the older style of e-mail. The beauty of the new Hotmail is that it’s an old-timey, friendly e-mail system with power features. I think advanced users will like it just fine, but its chief audience will probably be the hundreds of millions of people who want more from their e-mail without having to learn an entirely new e-mail philosophy.

Ars Technica on the photo functionality and Office integration:

Microsoft explains that e-mail is one of the most widely-used ways of sharing photographs. This is in spite of e-mail’s unsuitability to this task; most mail services place strict limits on the size of messages that can be used, and e-mailing a picture to a dozen people means that they all have to download it whether they care or not.

Building an image gallery on SkyDrive and then distributing links to that is a neat solution to the problem. It makes the e-mails themselves small and manageable, without requiring anyone to adopt a new workflow; it will still look and work as if they were regular attachments.

Pictures sent in this way, along with movies from YouTube and Hulu, or photos on sites like Flickr and SmugMug, will show up seamlessly embedded into any messages viewed from the Hotmail Web interface, so Hotmail users won’t need to switch to other sites to interact with media sent to them.

This integration also extends to Office documents. Any Office document can be opened, edited, and shared, right from the inbox, using the Office 2010 Web Apps. These too will be integrated with SkyDrive, so files can be edited and shared from SkyDrive as well.

The NYTimes Gadgetwise on the improved security features:

Microsoft will now use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, or HTTPS, to encrypt all data sent between you and Microsoft…Hotmail will also begin showing a safety symbol to alert its users about e-mail from certain organizations, like financial -services firms, that have been verified as “trusted senders.” [...]

And to help you safeguard your Hotmail password – a cherished target for scammers – Microsoft will begin offering single-use passcodes that you can request if you are, for example, using a public computer in a cybercafe or hotel. When you ask for a code, Hotmail will send it to your mobile phone by text message.

Hotmail will also use your mobile number, if you have supplied it, to help you recover your e-mail account if your password has been stolen and changed to lock you out by sending you a new password by text message.

My own email habits went from manually moving messages to folders, through rules that do it for me and InBox Zero, to where I am today — search. Everything stays in my Apple Mail inbox and I use search as navigation. Recently I’ve begun to contemplate using webmail to fully replace my desktop dependence.

Hotmail is still the No. 1 service worldwide with more than 360 million users; Gmail is No. 3 (>200 million) behind Yahoo (>300 million). In the U.S. Hotmail is No. 2 with 47 million users, well behind Yahoo’s 95 million users, but ahead of Gmail’s 43 million.

The new Hotmail debuts later this summer. When it does, I’ll be giving it a try.

You can find me @jwindish, at my Public Notebook, or email me at joe-AT-joewindish-DOT-com.

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