July has born witness to an almost continuous stream of new products and betas from Microsoft. Not to be left out the fun, the company's email offering, Hotmail, recently opened up a limited beta program to testers for the newest incarnation of the service. Code named 'Kahuna', the new version will ultimately form part of the 'Wave 11' line up of MSN products. It is currently unclear exactly when this version of Hotmail will be released to the general public, but it can be expected later this year, if not in early '06.
The service's key new features include (they claim) better spam protection, a great new layout (see screenshots) and better contact facilities. Also of note is the massive space increase planned (2 Gb), keyboard shortcuts and clever auto-complete code in text boxes. Rich text editing has been improved on, as have other existing features, like phishing protection. The design attempts, and succeeds, to be clean and clear. It makes a welcome break from the cluttered and over-whelming design currently in use.
Alert testers have noted that the URL for the new service is under the start.com domain name. Recently launched start.com offers a homepage / portal style site to users, collating information via the power of RSS. It would seem to much of a coincidence to ignore, so we can probably conclude that much tighter integration is being planned here (see here for what one might expect). Microsoft, whilst having a massive number of Hotmail users worldwide, is facing stiff competition from other vendors - Google, Yahoo - who have all recently updated and improved their services.
Whilst falling out of favour in recent times, there has been a renewed trend towards offering users customizable integrated pages. Microsoft is to be commended if it continues the development here; without doubt, Hotmail looks hotter than it has for a long time!