Microsoft: We lost our way to Gmail but give Hotmail another go now

By Tom Warren, on 6th Oct 11 3:02 pm with 47 Comments

Microsoft’s recent Hotmail upgrades see the company trying to win back users, but will they succeed?

Microsoft has been steadily rolling out a number of Hotmail updates over the past year that bring a more desktop-like experience to Hotmail and cater to its more demanding users. The improvements even include a Google Android app to help Hotmail compete against its biggest rival, Gmail. “We really kind of lost our way a little bit,” admitted Microsoft’s Mark West in an interview with WinRumors last week. “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.”

The frank admission shows that Microsoft has learned from its mistakes. The company was comfortable with Hotmail and sat back whilst Gmail arrived and offered some superior features and ease of use. “We lost our focus on the end user,” said West. “We’ve recognized that and realized that we have to make a lot of changes.” Microsoft’s changes over the past year have been impressive and truly focused on end users but how does the company shake a mind-share image that Hotmail sucks? “We understand that there’s still a perception that Hotmail is slow, spammy, lacking on storage – essentially outdated,” says Hotmail program manager Matthew O’Day in a blog post on Thursday. “We looked at that as a challenge,” says O’Day, a true upgrade to go above and beyond the problems Hotmail faced.

“It’s always been a goal of ours to make Hotmail feel more like a desktop application,” reveals O’Day. The goal is clear from the vast number of Outlook-like features that have moved across to Hotmail recently. “We’ve borrowed interface elements from Outlook (e.g., the reading pane, right click/drag actions), we support pinning to the Windows 7 taskbar with Internet Explorer 9, and, of course, Hotmail is great for managing e-mail from your other POP-enabled accounts.” Microsoft’s changes to a more rich desktop experience also require performance enhancements. The company has enabled pre-loading and caching to speed up Hotmail significantly. The result is a 10x speed improvement across a number of features compared to Spring 2011. Hotmail’s spam problems have also improved. Today the company blocks more than 98% of spam from inboxes. That’s 35% less than in 2006.

The results are a cleaner, faster and feature rich Hotmail for 2011. The changes are a testament to Microsoft’s ability to respond to competitors products with a range of its own features that bring a worthy upgrade to webmail. Some of the improvements in the last year include:

Microsoft claims “now is the time to take another look at Hotmail.” The company has created its own mini-site to detail the new changes and convince users they should ditch rivals and come back to Hotmail. Is it too too late? Are you a Gmail user? Let us know in the comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Boyd/576666141 Jason Boyd

    I never liked Gmail to be honest, always stuck with my ancient hotmail account :D

    • Guest

      yup, my e-mail address dates back to the @msn.com days

    • Anonymous

      As does mine. 

    • Anonymous

      Same here; got mine in 1995……… Time flies………

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Boyd/576666141 Jason Boyd

      Jan 1st 1995 for me too :)

    • Grs_dev

      I hate gmail. It’s so impractical and cluggy for my taste. I love using Hotmail with Windows Live Mail client. I dread using Hotmail in a browser however. Hope these updates take effect right away. Still not seeing them on my account.

  • Anonymous

    If you want me to use Gmail less, then let me chat with my Gmail contacts through Windows Live Messenger!  This is one of the annoying reasons why I log into gmail.

    • Anonymous

      Amen to that.  Now that Hotmail has Facebook and Messenger chat, if they integrate AOL and GMAIL, there would be no reason for me to use GMAIL again.

    • Anonymous

      You think that’s up to MS … ?

  • JohnCz

    If you believe in competition, then there is plenty of room for innovation and time to woo users back.  Not everything is going to be a homerun but I like Microsoft’s chances..especially when it comes to Hotmail.

  • Anonymous

    I was a Gmail user for many years since it offered ActiveSync connectivity. When Hotmail finally offered that service, I jumped ship immediately as I don’t like Google’s treatment of my personal data.

    • Anonymous

      I feel the same way. I have had a gmail account since the first beta but I have never trusted google enough to make it my personal account. Hotmail doesn’t look all that nice but as of lately it works great. Hopefully all the live services will get some metro design love in the coming months

    • Anonymous

      I know what you mean. I wasn’t really thinking of Google in that fashion when I signed up to Gmail all those years ago, but after reading the book “Search and Destroy: Why you can’t trust Google” I took another look at Hotmail and found it did what I needed. The contacts management in Windows Live was much better too, so that helped. Haven’t looked back really, but I still use Google’s Analytics service ;)

    • Anonymous

      lol and now I have to read that book.

  • Alvaro

    Microsoft must rename Hotmail, with a brand new name.

    • http://twitter.com/clindhartsen Chris Lindhartsen

      They tried this back during the Windows Live labs era, remember the original renaming to Windows Live Mail for both online and the user client on the PC? It didn’t hold because the brand. Hotmail, was still strong.

    • http://thommck.wordpress.com Thom McKiernan

      I used to think that but then I learned it was called that originally because of the letters HTML (i.e. HoTMaiL). Ever since then I think its a brilliant name! #geek

    • Alvaro

      I still think they have to rename it. I have an at live dot com account, better than Hotmail. The first time I read Hotmail I thought it was a porn page because HOT.

    • Anonymous

      You must speak spanish, lol.  ¡Caliente!

    • PC`EliTiST

      …and the most important: give a similar design as the new Gmail “Dense.”

      …and slightly more responsive.

      A similar design as “Microsoft.com” currently has, would do perfectly the job.

  • http://twitter.com/clindhartsen Chris Lindhartsen

    Internet email is interesting. Started off with using Hotmail back in the MSN days, jumped ship to Gmail for awhile, then came back when the Live.com addresses became available, and truth be told, I’ve made Hotmail work for what I need it to do. Refinements are nice though, but I’m a customer and staying there.

  • Guest

    I never liked Gmail. I only have it just for my junk mail and to test it. I think people at Google don’t know anything about nice design lime Microsoft does. Their design looks just like another Linux application.

    • Anonymous

      Yet Hotmail does not look as good as Gmail, especially when you take into consideration the template offerings.  Overall, though, I agree with your points.

    • Guest

      Subjective and I disagree. And most of the templates suck even worse.

  • Jean_collas

    I am still using hotmail. I thought about going to Gmail few years ago, but my name was already in use, so I didn’t! I really hope that they improve the website!
    Anyway, I still don’t like Gmail !

  • Impartial

    They missed a new Metro look, that would have given the necessary fanfare that this release needed. People car a lot more about looks than MS sometimes thinks. Come on dudes nearly all MS sites are metro now, gimme LiveMail Metro now!

  • http://thommck.wordpress.com Thom McKiernan

    The thing keeping me in Gmail was the label system so this is good progress from Hotmail.
    I still like all of the labs that Gmail give you to enhance it further, I have about 10 enabled. Hotmail seems a lot more reserved in that area unfortunately

    • Galileo Vieira

      Thom, out of curiosity, what Labs features/functionalities do you use the most?

    • http://thommck.wordpress.com Thom McKiernan

      Looks like I actually have 26 enabled! I would actually have had more but a few of them have graduated to official gmail features (e.g. superstars, nested labels, youtube previews etc.)

      The labs I have enabled at the moment are;
      Apps Search
      Authentication Icon for verified senders
      Auto Advance
      Background send
      Flickr previews in mail
      Google Calendar gadget
      Google Docs previews in mail
      Google Maps previews in mail
      Green Robot!
      Inbox Preview
      Inserting Images
      Mail Goggles
      Message Sneak Peak
      Mouse Gestures
      Picasa previews in mail
      Preview Pane
      Quick Links
      Refresh POP accounts
      Send & Archive
      Sender Time Zone
      Smart Labels
      SMS in Chat
      Title Tweaks
      Undo Send
      Unread message icon
      Video Chat enhancements

    • ZipZapRap

      The thing that drove me away from Gmail was the labelling system.
      Awful, just awful. When you have a few thousand emails, you end up having hundreds of labels. And how do you filter unlabelled items?
      They finally allow you to view unread items – that’s a great step. But to view unlabelled items, you have to create a custom label referencing each and every other label you have, and when you have hundreds.. well, no thanks.

      I’m back with hotmail now, and couldn’t be happier.

  • Anonymous

    Change the ugly ui

    • rojo

      jrtorrents hit the nail on the head for me!!!

    • http://twitter.com/LachlanCMcLeod Lachlan C McLeod

      they will metro the crap out of it soonn. im soooo excited

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Viki-Maverick/100002523433166 Viki Maverick

    How many times is Microsoft going to lose their way and recover. They are amongst the best in the business. Hope their business strategy thinktanks are at it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thechrisferreira Chris Ferreira

    I use both.

    I really like this trend at MS though. They have gotten a swift kick in the ass from Apple and Google. For too long MS was complacent in their position and really did not put enough care into their products. We have seen the beginnings of a turn around with Windows 7 and Windows Phone. Hopefully they keep up with this trend. The consumer market is becoming increasingly important and they are learning that to compete in the consumer market, the evidence of care and thoughtfulness has to shine through in your products.

  • Guest

    MS is always losing its way, particular in areas where it’s ahead. It’s like they lack the gene for self-motivation. We’ve seen this with IE, Windows, Media Center, many of the enterprise products, and hotmail.  Even the emergence of a competitor doesn’t wake them up. It’s only when that competitor has been allowed to firmly establish themselves and start eating MS’s lunch, that the company finally responds.

    • http://twitter.com/LachlanCMcLeod Lachlan C McLeod

      i think the release of vista caught them off guard and ever since then they have been struggling to get their groove back… i think they are getting back into the groove now

    • Anonymous

      That’s not just MS.  It’s common for most market leaders. 

  • Anonymous

    I really want Hotmail to exceed Gmail in terms of UI & capabilities. Then I can switch permanently! Tired of having my data hostage to those Google freaks.

    • Guest

      Exceed Gmail in UI? Gmail’s UI sucks.

  • Anonymous

    What Microsoft needs to do is to offer a way to transfer e-mail from Gmail to Hotmail.

    I currently use Google Hosted Services for my domain name and the other members of my family use Gmail directly, but personally I use the Pop3 feature of Hotmail to grab the email from gmail to my Live-ID.

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

    I have had a fundamental disagreement with Google over the way their “products” seem to land on peoples computers without them ever intending for that to be the result. I have a problem with ANY company that checks boxes by DEFAULT to install their OWN stuff while users are intending to install something else. Until that practice from Google comes to a halt, they will have the word “scumbags” associated with them, whenever I talk about them, no matter how good their products are. I have seen MS do that here and there and when and if I see it practiced regularly, I will make it my mission to make them stop.

  • http://twitter.com/laserfloyd Lewis McCrary

    Have the new features rolled out to everyone? I still see the same stuff from when I logged in a few weeks ago. I also do not like the ads on the right. Even a static text ad would be ok but they’re all animated. I’m close to switching but I need just a little more push!

  • Galileo Vieira

    Hey all, Galileo from the product team here. Glad to see the positive vibes around the new features we announced. As some of you might have heard or noticed, we’ve adopted a different release cadence with Hotmail. We have started to ship features more frequently, instead of doing the traditional big release every couple of years.  So you’ll definitely see more coming from us. Stay tuned.

  • Emi Cyberschreiber

    there was a time when i used Gmail. but then i got like 200 spam daily. since i couldn’t recover my Hotmail account.

    then i just saw i liked Hotmail more. i got a new account and then i got my actual account, and i almost dont get spam. its like 6 months with this new account and i dont get spam. and i deleted my gmail and now i use Hotmail always

    i still hope they can change UI, even though i like it, i want it to be changed to match metro UI because even microsoft.com is using metro style UI.

    but latest features are really nice. like drag and drop. i really use it alot.

    its nice Windows live team working on it, hopefully i can use these upcoming features soon!

  • Grannyville7989

    I really wish I could sync Hotmail with Mail.app on my laptop running OS X using IMAP.