Hotmail updated to include Gmail-like labelling and more Outlook features

By Tom Warren, on 3rd Oct 11 7:25 pm with 106 Comments

Microsoft kicked off a roll out of its Milestone 2 release of Hotmail Wave 5 on Monday.

The updated features will improve a number of existing features and introduce some powerful new mail management tools for power users. In an exclusive interview with WinRumors, Microsoft’s Mark West admitted that the company has felt the pressure from Gmail recently and wanted to respond. “We really kind of lost our way a little bit,” admitted West. “Gmail came out, they were doing some great stuff especially around storage and they were really being very disruptive and got an awful lot of traction off the back of that.” As a result a number of power users and average Hotmail users turned to Gmail to better organise their incoming mail. “We lost our focus on the end user,” said West. “We’ve recognised that and realised that we have to make a lot of changes.”

The changes will change the way that power users see Hotmail as the company moves a number of Outlook features over to Hotmail and introduces a categories feature which is identical to Gmail’s labelling option.

Categories and advanced folder management

Hotmail categories

Microsoft’s most significant change in the updated Hotmail is the addition of categories. Similar to Google’s own labelling system, categories will allow users to label messages or senders into a particular group. Messages can be tagged into a particular category manually or automatically based on sender or content type. Microsoft is also categorising newsletters automatically in Hotmail inboxes. “We’ve looked at around 30,000 newsletter senders and we’re able to classify those now,” said Microsoft’s Mark West in an interview with WinRumors.

The categories feature allows Hotmail users much greater control over their inbox and brings one of Gmail’s best features to Hotmail. Microsoft is looking to improve automated management and better customisation of the Hotmail inbox. “We’re really trying to put those tools into their hands,” said West. Microsoft has also improved its folder management. Users can quickly and easily create new folders without having to refresh the entire Hotmail Inbox by using some of the latest web technologies to create folders on the fly.

Hotmail inline folder creation

Email flagging

Hotmail flags

Microsoft has introduced flags to pin messages at the top of the Hotmail inbox. The implementation is basic at the moment. “Today it’s just pinning to top of email,” said West. “We flag them in quick view and also in the Hotmail homepage.” Hotmail users will also be able to quick flag emails using a new Instant Actions menu.

Instant Actions

Hotmail Instant Actions

Microsoft is introducing a simple Instant Actions pane into Hotmail. The pane will provide buttons that appear when your mouse hovers over a message. The buttons allow Hotmail users to delete, flag and sweep messages by default with one click. Hotmail users will be able to customise the UI be adding and removing buttons that they use most. The Instant Actions featured is aimed at power users of Hotmail and those who need to quickly file and manage their email flow.

Scheduled sweep cleanups

Hotmail scheduled sweep

Scheduled cleanups allow users to automatically get rid of certain emails. The option allows users to automatically sweep their Inbox of messages from certain senders that are older than a set period of time. The feature is useful for newsletters that aren’t relative after a few weeks.

SkyDrive improvements

Hotmail SkyDrive improvements

Hotmail will now offer users the ability to use their uploaded images in a SkyDrive web album or simply attach images to emails. A preview of the SkyDrive mail will render inline with the message content when users attempt to upload images to their new Hotmail messages.

SSL by default

Microsoft is also enabling SSL on default across the default Hotmail inbox. The change will improve the security of the average Hotmail user. “We’ve recognised that and realised that we have to make a lot of changes,” admitted West. “So we’re making a lot of infrastructure and technical changes and a lot of changes about what we’re actually focusing on, putting users first.”

The changes will roll out from today onwards and “will take a few weeks to hit every Inbox and every account” revealed West. Microsoft is also planning further features in the coming weeks. “We’re just getting started,” revealed Hotmail program manager Dick Craddock. “We’ll have more on these features and others as they roll out in the coming weeks.”

  • GP007

    Very nice and solid updates, hotmail users should like all of the above.

    • rsgx

      To be honest, if they aren’t revamping the whole interface, most Hotmail users (like me) won’t even know the features exists.

      The UI is a mess at the moment.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KTAHVKS2RNDWTQPHQEJALLRNEQ Adam Paris

      The UI is not a mess. If you think its a mess, you should look at gmail.

    • rsgx

      I know, there’s a reason I primarily stick to Office 365/Hotmail and Outlook. Google couldn’t design their way out of a paper bag.

      But, the UI is in need of a revamp. Trying to sift through the options and to make changes is not an easy task for the average user, although the main mail layout is ok, I was just expecting a ‘real’ rebuild.

      Unless there is a LOT more to come, this announcement has been over-hyped.

    • http://twitter.com/Shadow_024 Shadow 024

      This is over hyped? Of the websites I follow, this is the only one that even mentioned this update.  That was an “invited to” and “reminder” post at that.

    • rsgx

      @twitter-107533938:disqus I was alluding to the poster from the initial invite, I guess I got the wrong impression from it.

    • Anonymous

      people don’t know of the features because the UI is a mess… they need to revamp the UI

    • Anonymous

      To be honest both Hotmail & Gmail UIs are a mess. I’ve yet to see an email client that I really loved.

    • Goku

      UI is a real insult, hotmail is going through a kind of gray period, since it came into operation on behalf LIVE …..
      This and no other reason that I was forced to seek alternatives nicer. The features do not really care about, I just want an email, simple and functional, with a pretty design.But all this changed, hotmail I liked, I do not like hotmail now.

  • http://ahylianhuman.me Rod Davis

    All of these sound incredible and exciting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noe.brito Noe Brito

    When do we get the improvements? Also, what about Skydrive improvements where we can delete multiple items at once?!

  • luke516

    I expected metro :/

  • rsgx

    So is this the rebuild from the ground up? Is that all?

  • rojo

    Let’s hope they ditch the ugly interface.

    • Tuxplorer

      And make it even more fugly like the pathetic Gmail? No thanks. The Hotmail UI is pretty neat as it is.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know if you’ve seen the new Gmail design, but I love it.  It’s simple, clean, easy to use, and is themed like Google+
      It does what I need it to cleanly and with good design.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Franco-Cencio/1665253874 Franco Cencio

      And they copied it from hotmail/outlook

    • http://twitter.com/teranceo Terance Ostrander

      I find it almost too clean and simple. The search and some other input
      boxes almost disappear because they are the same color as the
      background with just a faint outline. I also notice the ads more with
      the new UI but at least they aren’t as bad as the ones on hotmail.

    • Anonymous

      You gotta be kidding, right?…
      MS can certainly do a better job therer. Can’t believe something build in the 90s shouldn’t had changed by now…

  • Gui’S

    As I understand, this is only part of the news ? And others will follow over the coming months ?

  • http://www.gamerelatedblog.com/ StriderNo9

    I wanted something a bit easier on the eyes, but if this moves faster I’d be happy,

  • Anonymous

    Disappointed!!

  • Aa

    this is what all the hype was about?  seriously?

    • Aa

      may be upcoming iPhone5 press releases, scared the Live team off

    • Anonymous

      reading between the lines I think there is more to come…

  • http://twitter.com/efjay01 Ef Jay

    The obvious question I have is, when are these features coming to WP7? Most, if not all of gmail’s web features are on android so can we expect the same or just more paying lipservice to competing with gmail?

  • M17

    When do we get the changes?  I did not see them when I logged into my Live Hotmail account.

    • http://123kinect.com/ Clemens

      The changes will roll out from today onwards and “will take a few weeks to hit every Inbox and every account” revealed West. Microsoft is also planning further features in the coming weeks. “We’re just getting started,” revealed Hotmail program manager Dick Craddock. “We’ll have more on these features and others as they roll out in the coming weeks.”

    • M17

      Great – thanks for the reply!

  • Galileo Vieira

    Galileo from the Hotmail team here. Let me see if I can address some early questions.
     
    @rsgx:disqus 
    We’ve been rebuilding “from the ground up” – meaning back-end infrastructure work – for a couple of years now. The back-end work takes a lot of time to build-up and improve, but it’s required for all the front-end stuff that most users notice. That said, we’ve released a ton of new front-end features since this summer (U.S.) and that’s thanks to the rebuilding from the ground-up. You’ll see a lot of new things in a faster release cadance from now on, so keep an eye out.

    @facebook-718255180:disqus 
    We announced some deeper SkyDrive integration today. But you’ll see more details on SkyDrive improvements in the near future.

     
     

    • http://www.facebook.com/noe.brito Noe Brito

      Thanks for the reply!

    • rsgx

      Thanks for taking the time to join in the discussion here.

      My question – and I’m sure a lot of people are curious too – is will we see the Metro UI in Hotmail in the (near) future? It seems like a logical place to take it considering the direction everything else is heading?

      Perhaps it will be one of the later changes, I just think it would be much more impactful to build up everything and release it in a bigger single update.

    • Galileo Vieira

      Well, you can understand that we wouldn’t confirm something like that through here. That said, do you feel a Metro-inspired UI would be a good fit for an email web app like Hotmail?

    • rsgx

      I’m sure you guys could make it work, depends on how Metro it is. In short, I absolutely do. It works so well with WP7 and Win8. This way, you could even have a touch friendly web-app for mobile devices (I may be reaching with this :). )

      If the desktop client is going to head that way (I know, nothing is confirmed to the public), it would makes sense that you have the same experience on a desktop and in a web app.

      Don’t get me wrong though, I appreciate the changes and work you and your team is putting in.

    • Arsr

      I think yes.

      Somenthing like the “Metrophisication” of the WindowsStore.com and Microsoft site.

    • http://twitter.com/IanMitchel1 Ian Mitchell

      I think you could pull it off, and pursue a UI refresh. Check out this guy’s mockups: http://clindhartsen.deviantart.com/gallery/?offset=0

      Granted, they’re for a desktop app, but many of the design details could be ported to the web. Just in general, a less busy feel (less gradients, icons) would be a welcome change for me.

      A new look would probably be picked up by the masses as well. Personally I love hotmail, but my non-tech friends aren’t as aware of the backend changes — a frontend change would probably be more attention getting. To them, they associate the UI with the old hotmail, which brings back painful memories.

      In any case, thanks for dropping by! It’s cool you interacted, at the very least!

    • veldar

      i would love to see hotmail in metro style like hte picture posted by rsgx

    • Anonymous

      I think Metro is an inspired design with applicability across devices and the internet. It’s an inspired design that actually improves functionality; I would LOVE to see this in Hotmail (note: I am primarily a Gmail user).

    • http://twitter.com/efjay01 Ef Jay

      Thanks for your posts. Seeing as many gmail features are present in their mobile os will WP7 users also see greater parity with the web version of Hotmail?

    • Galileo Vieira

      We are looking into that. Our focus over the last months has been on really re-building the back-end so that we can more easliy and rapidly implement “front-end” features for our users. What we’re announcing today is a preview of the features we’ll be releasing publicly soon. Just like we did back in June/July. So you can expect more to come – and more often.

    • Anonymous

      I just ran into the best email feature that Hotmail and Outlook needs

      I wrote an email in gmail clicked send.  It popped up a screen that said “Did you mean to attach files?  You wrote ‘I’ve attached’ in your message, but there are no files attached. Send anyway?”

    • http://twitter.com/nikoglo Nikolás Glogowski

      Well, at least Hotmail and Outlook don’t read our emails…

    • Anonymous

      Spell check reads your emails the same way that this feature does. 

      In terms of Gmail in general, couldn’t agree more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1724462076 Tim Mariner

      Seeing as how Google’s primary business is advertising, I don’t think this is a good thing.

      I can imagine Gmail targeting its advertisements based on the content of your emails which, to me, is a total invasion of privacy.

    • Anonymous

      You don’t have to imagine, they do target their advertisements based on the content of your emails.

      I started getting ads in russian after an email conversation with somebody over there.

      Regardless of what Google does, this feature would be awesome in outlook.  It really isn’t different from any other pre-send checks that email clients do.

    • GP007

      You can “attach” files in your skydrive that aren’t actually attached, so that feature would keep poping up probably.  

    • Anonymous

      If this isn’t already being done, could the Hotmail team please make it easier to delete multiple files from Skydrive. It would really be appreciated :)

    • Galileo Vieira

      You’ll be hearing about SkyDrive updates in the near future!

    • Anonymous

      Awesome!

    • Anonymous

      Were the back-end rebuilt improvements immediately available to the public when they took place, or was this some kind of a launch event were everybody saw which improvements Hotmail will get in the coming weeks as the new Hotmail rolls out?

    • Galileo Vieira

      Back-end improvements are constant and they are the foundation upon which we can build out end-user (front-end, if you will) features. So we launched a whole bunch of stuff earlier in June/July and and now we’ve given the press and public (via http://www.anotherlookathotmail.com) a preview of new features that will be rolling out in the next few weeks.

    • Anonymous

      Still unable to search my email in Russian. It simply does not find anything despite I definitely enter present words. It can find English words at the same time in my emails.

    • Galileo Vieira

      You should be able to search in Russian. Can you send me some screenshots via Twitter maybe?

    • Anonymous

      I’ve just recorded a video and investigated the bugs a bit more.
      http://vimeo.com/30063773
      So:
      1) Russian search is case-sensitive
      2) Even right-cased search sometimes fails
      3) English words are found even in the wrong case
      4) No suggestions for russian senders

    • Galileo Vieira

      Thanks for the video. I’ll investigate further.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve found it. Hotmail does not search email collected from other email services.

    • Galileo Vieira

      How are you aggregating your other emails in Hotmail? It will search all accounts and messages you receive, even those from other services.

  • http://www.mainstreetchatham.com/ JimmyFal

    I’d love to see a video of that event… long time coming. Microsoft really screwed themselves a few years back by disrespecting their loyal customer base. It’s nice to see them paying attention to the years of crap us loyalists had to put up with. I’m feeling really good about the company I have been defending all these years. They are talking the talk and walking the walk. I can’t wait for the best to come. This Mango update has me thinking what a clueless moron is at the helm of Sony.

  • Guest

    West’s “admission” is as accurate as it is disappointing. MS just keeps making the same mistakes over and over and then wondering why each successive time customers are a little less willing to give them another chance.

  • Michel Laliberte

    Hoping we will then
    be able to permanently delete-remove a whole bunch of mails and or contacts in ONE single operation. As it stands
    today, removing 1500 mails-contacts is a pain in the …

    • Galileo Vieira

      You can do that already with email. Just use the Sweep button. Select the senders you want to deletely and hit Sweep – Delete all from, and Hotmail will find all the messages from the same sender and delete them. You can select multiple senders and do this in one operation.

    • Michel Laliberte

      What about deleting 1569 contacts in ONE shot and NOT 25 at the time ?

    • Galileo Vieira

      Ah, contacts. I believe it’s not a supported scenario at the moment, but I know it’s being looked into as well.

  • http://www.flavors.me/fludlyt Fludlyt

    Out of interest, will the new Categories feature have an option for emails that are automatically categorised to also appear in the main inbox (in a similar fashion to the filters in Gmail)? If so then I will happily complete my transition to Hotmail when the updates roll out.

    • Galileo Vieira

      Yep, that’s how it works. You’ll be able to categorize your messages and they’ll stay in the main inbox as long as you don’t place them into a separate folder. And then you can search, filter, or create a QuickView for the categories.

    • http://www.flavors.me/fludlyt Fludlyt

      Music to my ears :). Thank you!

  • Galileo Vieira

    For those that want a look at some of the new features being mentioned, we’ve got some videos up at http://www.anotherlookathotmail.com

    • Tuxplorer

      Thanks for stopping by Galileo. I would like to make a request concerning new features. At the moment, there’s no way for enthusiasts like me to get access to these new features in the beta stages. So, it will be great if you could give an option to sign up for the beta testing before making new features widely available.

    • Galileo Vieira

      We totally hear you on that and we’re working hard on making that a reality.

    • Tuxplorer

      Thanks a lot for the quick response!

  • http://twitter.com/EduardoMLD EduardoMLD

    How can I watch the full presentation?

  • http://twitter.com/EduardoMLD EduardoMLD

    When these features rolling out?

    • Galileo Vieira

      Over the next few weeks.

  • Anonymous

    Hotmail team, keep up the good work. I’m looking forward to see the new features.  I hope you guys also fixed the memory footprint getting big over time until I reload the IE tab. IMO whiners here are nitpicking on little differences here and there without even taking a good look at what Hotmal has to offer…kind of like many MS haters out there still bashing everything MS just based on their experience with Windows 98.

    BTW, I love Hotmail’s alias feature. Makes it so much easier to manage multiple inboxes.

  • Anonymous

    I hope they’re going
    to add icons to the UI again. Removing the icons in the last refresh really
    hurt the usability. Icons can be identified instantly unlike the plain text
    they have now. Let’s hope the inevitable Metro refresh brings some improvements
    in this area.

    • Galileo Vieira

      The instant actions use icons.

    • Anonymous

      Yep, and I’m a big fan of that, as you might have gathered. More icons please! ;)

  • Anonymous

    Is there any plan to add IMAP support to Hotmail? I’m liking where Hotmail is going, but the lack of IMAP support is pretty rough, right now I have Hotmail forward everything to Gmail just so I can sync “read” indicators across my devices.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer questions.

    • Galileo Vieira

      Out of curiosity, what devices would those be? Most do support EAS now.

    • Anonymous

      iPhone 4, Windows Live Mail and Outlook. I frequently notice that items I’ve read in Windows Live Mail appear as unread in the web client, and currently read items aren’t synced between the iPhone 4 and web/Live Mail.

      Glad to hear Hotmail will be supported as an option in iOS 5, but I’m not sure I prefer EAS over IMAP just for infrequent email checking: from what I hear it’s more power-draining than simple IMAP. If I recall correctly, iOS only lets you have one EAS account, which means college students who use Exchange for email are out of luck.

      Of course, they could always set up some sort of forwarding/filtering scheme like I have, but it’s still an inconvenience.

    • Mike Gaffney

      Mike (also from the Hotmail team) here. You can configure your Hotmail account on your iPhone using EAS, which will sync your Hotmail iPhone 4 activity with the web. And iPhone does support multi-instance EAS, so you can use Hotmail on EAS with another Exchange account (work or school). To set up Hotmail using EAS on iPhone, you can follow these instructions: http://bit.ly/oEUMdf

    • Galileo Vieira

      Quick follow-up on this. We are taking a look at IMAP. However, depending on the devices you’re talking about we’ve got you covered with EAS. As part of todays announcements, we’re releasing an official Hotmail app for Android that uses EAS. You can download it here: http://aka.ms/HMAndApp

      As for iOS, we expect Hotmail to be in iOS5 as a standard email option, meaning you’ll just logon with email/pass and enjoy the benefits of EAS there.

    • http://www.ardentra.com Ardentra

      Do you guys support flagging over EAS right now? Its currently not supported on WP7.5 mango or 7.0.

    • Galileo Vieira

      Hotmail uses EAS, yes. And on Windows Phones, that’s the protocol that’s being used. Any Hotmail, a.k.a., Windows Live ID, account that’s added to WP7 will have everything sync’d automatically.

    • http://www.ardentra.com Ardentra

      I just set my hotmail account up again and you can’t flag messages from WP7.5. So flagging messages on Mango is still a no go. Is hotmail still using EAS 2.5 instead of the latest version? I believe thats the only thing holding back flagging support.

    • Galileo Vieira

      Sorry, misread your question on EAS and flags. Not supported right now, but being looked at.

    • http://twitter.com/IanMitchel1 Ian Mitchell

      What about on OSX? I’ve always wanted to use my Live account with the Mail/Contacts App

    • Galileo Vieira

      As of today the native OSX mail app doesn’t support EAS, so unfortunately you’d have to go throgh POP.

    • http://www.ardentra.com Ardentra

      Ahh bummer! Hopefully you guys can add that this year. That would be the single best feature you could give to me! Love hotmail and can’t wait for the new features…

  • Anonymous

    Boooooohhoooo  Hotmail team! When are you going to change this old and ugly UI?
    Couldn’t care less for the scheduled cleanup feature, seriously.
    Totally agree this annoucement was inflated. Way less than what I expected…

  • xposed

    The new version of Gmail look more Metro-ish then Hotmail :S

    • Anonymous

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed this! Google has no intuitive sense for UI design, they just copy everything good from Apple & Microsoft!

  • http://www.ardentra.com Ardentra

    Crap, was really hoping they were announcing something related to Flagging in windows phone. Right now you can’t flag messages in hotmail accounts on WP7.

    • Galileo Vieira

      Sorry, misread your question on flags and EAS. I’ll find out and get back with an answer.

  • Anonymous

    Found nothing really exciting, I don’t know what was all the hype about.

  • DWR

    Hi,

    Great to see the ongoing development of Hotmail. I recently “came home” (!) after a period with GMail and I’m really happy with the service.

    One quick question: a lot of my “sent” messages that I’ve migrated to Hotmail show as “from me” rather than “to the recipient”. This is my only real problem with the webmail and Windows Live Mail package.

    Can anything be done about this?

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

    DWR

  • luke516

    SERIOUS QUESTION: when will you add mobile support for aliases? That is an absolutely fantastic feature, but not having it on my Windows Phone just kills it for me.

  • Anonymous

    Update is practically useless when most of the current features are hard to find.  I want to see my inbox first when I log on..  not messenger social. Fonts are small too and too many colours makes it hard on the eye.. call me when you revamp the UI, now am sticking to Gmail and yahoo.

  • veldar

    1- i appreciate the effort done 
    2- i would love to see Hotmail in Metro Style UI i was hopping to see this in the event that held 
    3- if it possible to add security feature by securing your account with your phone number 
    im hotmail user i will be always be please add Metro Style to hotmail

  • veldar

    support more countries to add their phone number as a security option 
    i live in saudi arabia and its not supported nether lebanon or egypt 
    this security option should be for all HOTMAIL users not just specific countries 

    add this please and metro style i’ll be Happy user :D 
    Thank you 

  • veldar

    cant see my posts 

  • Sumit Mehta

    I was expecting a brand new mail domain.. little bit disappointed.. I appreciate new features but overall the hype created by Hotmail by invitation was more than offerings…  Anyway good work..

  • Anonymous

    phone security feature for everyone and every country not limited for some countries and other countries can’t have it that if you want to beat gmail