Microsoft aiming for Gmail with safer and more functional Hotmail

Microsoft has Google in its sights with an upcoming Hotmail refresh due this Summer.

Hotmail "Wave 4", as it is currently dubbed internally, will introduce a new set of features with security at the heart of the popular webmail service. Last week, Neowin met with Microsoft's Walter Harp, Director of Product Management in the Windows Live division of Microsoft. Harp's team focus on Hotmail, SkyDrive and related security platforms and technology such as Microsoft SmartScreen.

Harp detailed several new features of Hotmail including "gray mail" reduction, Microsoft SmartScreen, account proofs and single-use codes.

"Gray mail" inbox clutter reduction

Microsoft is excited about the new Hotmail and claims it is "the most efficient email for busy people." You may have seen some of the new advertising, focusing on "the new busy". This advertising is gearing up to a Summer of Hotmail improvements for those fed up with a cluttered Inbox. Microsoft has gained valuable experience from their Exchange and Hotmail offerings and believes they've captured the three main pain points of email:

  1. Too much spam
  2. Can't send large attachments
  3. Junk mail cluttering up Inbox

Microsoft claims 80% of what is reported as "spam" isn't actual spam. It's what the software giant calls "junk mail". According to Harp many people sign up to newsletters years ago and they continue to clutter mailboxes. In most cases un-subscribing to newsletters and promotional mailings can be a difficult process with users having to search around the email content for a tiny un-subscribe link. Because of junk mail, only approximately 50% of your Inbox contains mail that you care about. The rest is clutter according to Microsoft. It's this clutter that is overwhelming some users and making Inbox management difficult.

In 2006 spam represented 35% of the mail in an average Hotmail inbox. Today 90% of web mail traffic is composed of spam. Microsoft claims the amount of spam in the average Hotmail inbox is reduced to only 4%. Despite the inconvenience of spam mail, Microsoft is focusing on junk mail (gray mail).

Microsoft is introducing a number of different ways to cut down on "gray mail". The company is working on the following features:

  • False-positive reduction for blocking legitimate mail
  • Auto-learning of individual preferences to mail
  • Introducing Hotmail highlights to quickly see if you have important email at a glance
  • One-click filters to filter the entire email Inbox to see messages from certain contacts
  • Quick views to see mail containing photos, documents, videos or flagged messages etc

New Hotmail features

Most of the new features in Hotmail help with reducing mailbox clutter, improving photo sharing and getting things done. As we revealed last month, Microsoft is introducing Push Mail for mobile devices. Utilising Exchange ActiveSync, iPhone, Windows Mobile and Android devices will all be able to synchronise mail, calendar and contacts between Hotmail and the phone. Microsoft is also improving the user experience for those that use mobile browsers with Hotmail. The new mobile Hotmail will support filters, in-line message previews, HTML messages, offline email viewing and conversation viewing. A number of Hotmail partners will also be building custom Hotmail apps for other mobile phones including BlackBerry and Nokia devices.

Microsoft is also adding an array of new features for Hotmail on the web. Conversation view, similar to Outlook 2010 and Gmail, is being enabled. Hotmail's conversation view will be optional, meaning users can easily turn off conversation view. The view will be similar to Outlook 2010 and Exchange Outlook Web Access 2010. Conversation view will be disabled by default but users will be aided to turn on the view when a reply to a conversation hits their Inbox. Hotmail is also introducing Sweep, a short menu of actions that lets users sweep the mail they don't want out of their Inbox. Sweep allows you to clear out the clutter from your mailbox - quickly.

Microsoft is also adding a new viewer to Hotmail that integrates content from third party websites when you receive email. The feature is dubbed "Active Views". Photo attachments can be viewed easily from within Hotmail and Active View will list the content of an email at the beginning of a message. There's no need to download photo or video attachments as Hotmail automatically creates a great looking photo slide show for users. The feature also works with shipping notifications, providing you tracking information directly within the email without having to copy a tracking number and pasting it into a website.

Last but not least in new features is the ability for users to open Office documents within Hotmail. In the past users have had to rely on downloading attachments and then opening them within their Office desktop applications. More often than not there would be compatibility issues due to different Office versions. Microsoft has built office document viewing straight into the browser within the new Hotmail. Users simply click to view the attached documents and they will load within Hotmail.

Security improvements - Account "proofs" and single-use codes

Microsoft is adding the option to privately associate certain information with your Hotmail account. These "proofs" of information will allow users to recover access and control in the event of a hijacked account. Instead of simply answering a secret question and answer combination, if you lose your password or if your account is compromised you could regain access to your account via an SMS message. Microsoft will also recognise if you are using a computer that you've registered with Hotmail.

Single-use codes are being implemented for when you sign in from public computers. Using single-use codes means you no longer have to type your password into a computer at an internet cafe or an airport. You simply request a code and a one-time use authentication code will be sent to a private "proof" that you have setup. This "proof" could be an alternative email or mobile phone.

Microsoft will also be providing full-session SSL encryption at login for all accounts. The company plans to launch this later in the year after the initial roll out of the new Hotmail. The option will allow users to maintain SSL encryption between themselves and Hotmail servers during their entire Hotmail session. The final piece of Hotmail's security enhancements is trusted senders. Microsoft will locate and identify messages that are sent from genuine companies and highlight them with a green shield.

Conclusion

Microsoft is clearly onto a winner with the new Hotmail. The new features and security efforts will not go un-noticed and those who are struggling with POP3 access on their iPhone or Android devices will welcome the new push mail option. Microsoft has a strong focus on security with the new Hotmail. The new security features will make webmail safer for every Hotmail user and will likely cut down on the number of accounts that are hijacked each month. The strong focus on de-cluttering the inbox will please many who struggle with their email in a daily basis. Microsoft won't provide an exact date when the new features will be available, simply stating "Summer 2010". Expect to see them some time during June.

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105 Comments

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While I do actually use live for my emails, I still think theyre miles off @mail, live has more features but @mail is a much better client

IMAP needed. This is a top priority since a few years. Less since POP3 is there, but hey, instead they could just have skipped POP3 and went IMAP already. Simpler

PsykX said,
IMAP needed. This is a top priority since a few years. Less since POP3 is there, but hey, instead they could just have skipped POP3 and went IMAP already. Simpler

They're skipping IMAP and going straight into ActiveSync (Exchange)

PsykX said,
IMAP needed. This is a top priority since a few years. Less since POP3 is there, but hey, instead they could just have skipped POP3 and went IMAP already. Simpler

How is IMAP simpler (client side) than POP? Just about any IMAP client for Windows *also* supports POP. (Gmail supports both POP and IMAP, and has for years; the only recent difference is how the *clients* handled the choice. Until Outlook 2010, you had to tell Outlook which to use; now Outlook defaults to IMAP with Gmail.) If anything, IMAP is closer to LAN-based or Web-based mail than POP, as you are working directly with server-side folders, as opposed to working truly offline (as is the case with POP).

Believe it or not but Hotmail has faster loading time than ANY mail service out there. It beats Gmail hands down!

Some nice improvements there. The Hotmail interface still makes me feel like I am 12 years old though.

b0m8er said,
Sounds good, but as long as that huge banner stays on the right side - I ain't gonna touch hotmail. Gmail has far less annoying advertisements.

Yes but this doesn't stop Hotmail adding an add on the bottom of any email I send through their servers. If they didn't do this, my email life would be very much simpler rather than using a combo of Gmail and my own email server.

Prefer the minimalistic interface of gmail. Plus, it's always slower and the ads are annoying. If they improve these problems, i may start to use hotmail again.

I retested my hotmail account a few months ago and concluded three things would have to happen for me to reconsider.

1. Reduce the amount of spam.
2. Get rid of ads that flash or shake
3. Add conversation view.

Two of the three is pretty good. AdBlock can help with the third.

Looks promising, I hated Gmail in the first place hopefully it won't be too basic looking.
The new hotmail looks streamlined tho, I like that!

Its about time. I still use hotmail as my mail email address and every other big web based email has a better and more functional interface than hotmail. I mean, it was within the last year that they just started to resize huge picture attachments. About 5 years behind everyone else. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that MS will never be innovative, they meed someone to copy from.

If they change the name of the email service to something better than or even less stupid than "hotmail", then maybe I'll try it.

spacer said,
If they change the name of the email service to something better than or even less stupid than "hotmail", then maybe I'll try it.

<removed>

Edited by Jordan Wharmsby, May 18 2010, 11:43am : Uneducated remark.

soldier1st said,
won't wave4 drop support for XP except a few web services?


Microsoft has clarified the issue, saying that XP SP3 will still be able to use the Wave 4 versions of the Windows Live web services. What won't work on XP are the Wave 4 versions of various Windows Live client programs, such as Windows Live Mail, Windows Messenger and Windows Live Photo Gallery. Of course, XP users will still be able to keep running the current versions of the Windows Live clients.

http://news.softpedia.com/news...ows-7-or-Vista-141800.shtml

[quote=psreloaded said,]They should have implemented the https:// protocol like gmail. at present only their login is secured.[/quote]

[quote=Microsoft will also be providing full-session SSL encryption at login for all accounts. The company plans to launch this later in the year after the initial roll out of the new Hotmail. The option will allow users to maintain SSL encryption between themselves and Hotmail servers during their entire Hotmail session. The final piece of Hotmail's security enhancements is trusted senders. Microsoft will locate and identify messages that are sent from genuine companies and highlight them with a green shield.[/quote]

It helps to read sometimes

lordcanti86 said,

It helps to read sometimes

There is nothing to read. Microsoft doesn't have a secure web mail .

Promising something in the future is vaporware.

Omen1393 said,

June 15th.

I hope Wave 4 is going to be feature-rich. I thought it was coming out in December/January and I was completely wrong... It's just taking forever to come and that isn't the final release either, just a public preview...

ashwini007 said,
Hotmail should have tabs like Yahoo.

Yahoo's services and apps are all POS now... They ditched Yahoo Messenger for Vista...the first clean version of Yahoo Messenger and replace it with a much more ugly client designed for Windows XP... And their Yahoo Mail is completely bloated and has tabs and all that like it's a freaking application when it is not... They only do Mac software good anymore...

Electric Jolt said,

Yahoo's services and apps are all POS now... They ditched Yahoo Messenger for Vista...the first clean version of Yahoo Messenger and replace it with a much more ugly client designed for Windows XP... And their Yahoo Mail is completely bloated and has tabs and all that like it's a freaking application when it is not... They only do Mac software good anymore...

Yahoo! Mail's UI is deliberately patterned after Zimbra Desktop for a reason; Zimbra is the server-side application that Yahoo uses for mail. Yahoo, in fact, used to *own* Zimbra; they just sold Zimbra to VMware. (That doesn't effect the free Zimbra Desktop, however; it remains both free, and freely available, for Windows/Mac/Linux. I use ZD because it is one of only two free Windows Y! Mail clients that support offline reading directly without hacks.) Zimbra *can* support other protocols than its own (among other Zimbra corporate users is Comcast, which based the redesigned SmartZone around Zimbra; however, their support for other clients remains unchanged); the decision not to is one made by Yahoo itself. (The decision not to go with an Aero-specific version of Yahoo Messenger is understandable, from a corporate POV (at the time, Vista had just shipped, and was tanking badly in the sales department; meanwhile, XP users were largely refusing to move); while I was *not* among the holdouts, we were largely in the minority. But you know what is true about hindsight - always 20/20.)

ALUOp said,
people still using hotmail? amazing.

Another troll? In terms of marketshare, Hotmail is way ahead of G-Mail. So is yahoo. G-Mail comes 3rd.

Edited by Denis W., May 18 2010, 9:57am :

ALUOp said,
people still using hotmail? amazing.
I have 2 that I still use and I get about the same amount of spam in them that I get with GMail.

My first personal e-mail account was a Hotmail account I created back in 1997, which dates back to before Microsoft bought them. I have a half-dozen accounts now (including my own server and, yes, Gmail), but I still get a lot of use from this one.

Thunderbuck said,
My first personal e-mail account was a Hotmail account I created back in 1997, which dates back to before Microsoft bought them. I have a half-dozen accounts now (including my own server and, yes, Gmail), but I still get a lot of use from this one.

+1, had an account since '97 also, but strictly used for junk. I have always disliked the hotmail interface.

Edited by ThatOne6uy, May 18 2010, 4:47pm : Additional info

NoctheniK said,
Nice, can't wait.

What you see in the news and the videos is marketing bull ****. Just wait until it comes out. You'll hope they will fix it in Wave 5. I can already point out bad user experiences in the Screenshots, like the "Move all of them?" dialog box. WTF?

Mind you there are flaws in GMail and others as well, but they don't seem to be over doing things like these people are. Yahoo Mail is another.

Edited by Jebadiah, May 18 2010, 10:39am :

LynxMukka said,
Get rid of the overally large and chunky adverts and then it will get up to the Gmail ranks.

Agreed, Microsoft seems morbidly obsessed with big banner advertisements, so much so that we have to (well not really thanks to the Godly A-Patch) Put up with them embedded into Live Messenger... Why??? Messenger for mac doesn't have ads all over it.

Edited by Inklin, May 18 2010, 1:23pm :

AKLP said,
Im still staying at Gmail.

I have both GMail *and* Hotmail; however, I hate Web-based mail in general, which is why I wished Yahoo! offered a non-fee offline mail option (the only free offline mail client that exists for Yahoo is eM Client) in the US that isn't a hack (yes; I consider Y!Pop and FreePOPs hacks).

Thank Ghu that Outlook now handles both Gmail and Hotmail offline.

How to make Hotmail good:

1. Keep me logged in when I explicitly check "Remember me". (I usually say logged in for a day or two max, then I get an error, I must log out and relogin).

2. Work on having a stable platform, many times I tried accessing my Hotmail only to get "The service isn't available right now". I've never had a problem accessing my gmail.

3. Put me right into the inbox when I open Hotmail, I don't want a page telling me that my friend on msn messenger has changed his display picture.

Note that if you don't experience problems 1 & 2 it might have something to do with my region, I've noticed that I get gimped experience on msn messenger unless I change my country to United States.

Denvildaste said,
How to make Hotmail good:

1. Keep me logged in when I explicitly check "Remember me". (I usually say logged in for a day or two max, then I get an error, I must log out and relogin).

2. Work on having a stable platform, many times I tried accessing my Hotmail only to get "The service isn't available right now". I've never had a problem accessing my gmail.

3. Put me right into the inbox when I open Hotmail, I don't want a page telling me that my friend on msn messenger has changed his display picture.

Note that if you don't experience problems 1 & 2 it might have something to do with my region, I've noticed that I get gimped experience on msn messenger unless I change my country to United States.


I've never had an issue with the first two, but you can configure Hotmail to go straight to the inbox (rather than the retarded as hell Today page) by going to options, selecting Today Page, and selecting the "go directly to inbox" option

If you've installed Windows Live Essentials then 1. isn't an issue.

2. Never had this.

3. Going to mail.live.com fixes this for me.

Denvildaste said,
How to make Hotmail good:

1. Keep me logged in when I explicitly check "Remember me". (I usually say logged in for a day or two max, then I get an error, I must log out and relogin).

2. Work on having a stable platform, many times I tried accessing my Hotmail only to get "The service isn't available right now". I've never had a problem accessing my gmail.

3. Put me right into the inbox when I open Hotmail, I don't want a page telling me that my friend on msn messenger has changed his display picture.

Note that if you don't experience problems 1 & 2 it might have something to do with my region, I've noticed that I get gimped experience on msn messenger unless I change my country to United States.

4. Pasting from Word to a Plain Text e-mail results in sending of CSS code in IE, Firefox and Chrome.

5. Loss of Carriage Return Characters in Plain Text e-mails while writing them because of malfunctioning text-defacing Auto-Save. As well as in e-mails opened from Drafts.

6. Automatic conversion of e-mail addresses typed in To, CC and BCC boxes to HTML tags. Why? Whyyyy?

IMO Plain text e-mail is the most basic e-mail functionality you can provide and Microsoft doesn't do that well at all.

Edited by Jebadiah, May 18 2010, 10:30am :

I used to use hotmail and I did like it better than my gmail account, however i cant stand the ads. The same goes with their messenger, what's with the big flash ads? Gmail uses txt based ones that I rarely notice are even there... oh well.

ZenVenT said,
I used to use hotmail and I did like it better than my gmail account, however i cant stand the ads. The same goes with their messenger, what's with the big flash ads? Gmail uses txt based ones that I rarely notice are even there... oh well.

I'd rather have large flash ads than someone data mining my e-mail for targeted ads that I wasn't going to click on anyway

ZenVenT said,
I used to use hotmail and I did like it better than my gmail account, however i cant stand the ads. The same goes with their messenger, what's with the big flash ads? Gmail uses txt based ones that I rarely notice are even there... oh well.

Neowin has ads too, why do you come here?

Sounds good, but as long as that huge banner stays on the right side - I ain't gonna touch hotmail. Gmail has far less annoying advertisements.

b0m8er said,
Sounds good, but as long as that huge banner stays on the right side - I ain't gonna touch hotmail. Gmail has far less annoying advertisements.

You know, they have these magical programs for your web browser that can.....alleviate your problem....

b0m8er said,
Sounds good, but as long as that huge banner stays on the right side - I ain't gonna touch hotmail. Gmail has far less annoying advertisements.

Why put up with *any* advertisements? Simply move to a non-Web client (such as Outlook); sheesh.

Will Microsoft be removing the ads that are tacked onto the bottom of each email sent from a free Hotmail account with the new Wave 4 release?

Allis said,
Will Microsoft be removing the ads that are tacked onto the bottom of each email sent from a free Hotmail account with the new Wave 4 release?

+1 This is why I don't use my Hotmail account when working with professionals. If you didn't know, if you use outlook, windows live mail, or a phone the ads at the bottom aren't sent, it's only in the web version.

"One-click filters to filter the entire email Inbox to see messages from certain contacts"

the gmail feature i use most of the time.. would love to see it in hotmail

Microsoft has been putting a lot of effort into improving Hotmail/Live mail over the years and the effort is finally starting to show.

so basically, they're innovating with proofs and singe use codes, but everything else they've implemented are just catching up to gmail (i didn't know it doesn't even have filters yet), sometimes not even (SSL).

primexx said,
so basically, they're innovating with proofs and singe use codes, but everything else they've implemented are just catching up to gmail (i didn't know it doesn't even have filters yet), sometimes not even (SSL).
Not sure if this is a bad thing..?

primexx said,
(i didn't know it doesn't even have filters yet)

I like the fact it will have folders AND filters tbh. I do love my GMAIL but for certain things I prefer folders although I know you can do similar techniques with filters (as I have) but for the end user folders are simple (think grand parents etc)

Single-use codes are being implemented for when you sign in from public computers. Using single-use codes means you no longer have to type your password into a computer at an internet cafe or an airport. You simply request a code and a one-time use authentication code will be sent to a private "proof" that you have setup. This "proof" could be an alternative email or mobile phone.

This is what I like the most, finally can safely login to my email from a computer which is not mine without getting paranoid about what sort of stuff is there.

kInG aLeXo said,

This is what I like the most, finally can safely login to my email from a computer which is not mine without getting paranoid about what sort of stuff is there.

You will have to sign-in to another "proof" mail with user+pass , from an unsecured computer, just to get the single-use for hotmail ? It is just big BS.

Edited by ilev, May 18 2010, 5:23am :

ilev said,

You will have to sign-in to another "proof" mail with user+pass , from an unsecured computer, just to get the single-use for hotmail ? It is just big BS.

So use your cell then?

rm20010 said,

So use your cell then?

And give away to an unsecure Pc your cell number (maybe leave your name too ?), and who will pay for the international call/sms if it is overseas ?

Edited by ilev, May 18 2010, 5:20am :

ilev said,

You will have to sign-in to another "proof" mail with user+pass , from an unsecured computer, just to get the single-use for hotmail ? It is just big BS.


Another "proof" mail is BS, but cell is not, I believe I won't need to type the cell number, only need to type the email address and it will automatically send the secure code to the cell.Giving away my email address to unsecured computer only is better than giving away my email address and password ! International calls\sms ? Well, for me it is not an issue, I don't travel that much, am talking about logging to my email from one of the "friends" or internet cafes computers full of keyloggers and other spyware stuff.

Edited by kInG aLeXo, May 18 2010, 7:43am :

ilev said,

And give away to an unsecure Pc your cell number (maybe leave your name too ?), and who will pay for the international call/sms if it is overseas ?

If you're that paranoid about that public PC, then stick to your own mobile device. Also, if you insist on roaming with your phone while you travel, the costs for roaming texts is moot. Chances are those who are constantly on the move and need to check email from a public workstation from outside their local area have the necessary funds or plans to cover it over some casual user who's only using that workstation to lookup social network updates.

ilev said,

And give away to an unsecure Pc your cell number (maybe leave your name too ?), and who will pay for the international call/sms if it is overseas ?


You obviously don't understand the feature.

ilev said,

And give away to an unsecure Pc your cell number (maybe leave your name too ?), and who will pay for the international call/sms if it is overseas ?

With O2 in the UK I can send and receive messages while overseas for free.

So many people dont seem to have a clue about this. OBVIOUSLY YOU WONT GO TO HOTMAIL.COM AND ENTER YOUR MOBILE!!!
You will have to enter your email address *possibly* but the proof code could easily be sent to your phone number on record. Obviously YOU setup how you want proof BEFORE going to an unsecured pc.
Also what stops them giving you some codes BEFORE you leave for your trip to use?
I also see an app coming out for phones for this like what Blizzard did and even a key fob tbh.
Its a brilliant idea as SSL @ an internet cafe computer can be easily stiched up to allow them to read your details (always check the cert properties kiddies and make sure its a big name cert not "kiddie cafe" as the CA) and most people dont have a clue how easy it is. SSL is okay though when using your own hardware.

Trong said,
Would be somewhat stoked for this if Thunderbird hadn't DELETED 6000+ MESSAGES FROM THE SERVER SIDE.

Speaking of which, I'm nearing my six thousandth unread email in my inbox. Who know how many I have read.

Recon415 said,

Speaking of which, I'm nearing my six thousandth unread email in my inbox. Who know how many I have read.

I have 11,000 and I probably have read 50 haha. Mostly Facebook

Jagjit Singh said,

I have 11,000 and I probably have read 50 haha. Mostly Facebook

I don't know how everyone lets it all add up. I either have filters to put them in their own folder (facebook, work, etc) or I read through them and deal with them as I get them. Do any of you really keep the Facebook messages for a reason?

The "Gray Mail" is so true. A lot of people sign up for newsletters and then get ****ed when their inbox gets full of them, thinking and calling it spam. If you don't want it, unsubscribe or do like I do and filter it to another folder. I get maybe 3 spam messages a day but none of them go to my inbox, they do go to the junkmail folder.

dogmai said,

I don't know how everyone lets it all add up. I either have filters to put them in their own folder (facebook, work, etc) or I read through them and deal with them as I get them. Do any of you really keep the Facebook messages for a reason?

The "Gray Mail" is so true. A lot of people sign up for newsletters and then get ****ed when their inbox gets full of them, thinking and calling it spam. If you don't want it, unsubscribe or do like I do and filter it to another folder. I get maybe 3 spam messages a day but none of them go to my inbox, they do go to the junkmail folder.

+1. I use Hotmail's auto email sorting to keep the different notifications in their own place. I'm interested in this new WL Hotmail version (and I hope some of the new features will work with WL Mail).

Well it couldn't be any LESS functional than is is. My hotmail account has started to tell me I'm blocked from sending emails because it thinks I'm a spammer.

If there was a "delete" button for hotmail I'd have pressed it by now.

At least gmail still works flawlessly

dvb2000 said,
Well it couldn't be any LESS functional than is is. My hotmail account has started to tell me I'm blocked from sending emails because it thinks I'm a spammer.

If there was a "delete" button for hotmail I'd have pressed it by now.

At least gmail still works flawlessly

Hotmail = The result of overthinking e-mail.

Jebadiah said,

Hotmail = The result of overthinking e-mail.

So true. Gmail is where it is now because it's basically simple. There's a lot of useful functions if you need them but on the face of it, it just works (to steal a line from Apple - at least in this case it is justified...).

Edited by Nick Brunt, May 18 2010, 11:43pm : typo