Hotmail Overhaul Adds Spam Fix, New Features

You wouldn’t be the first person to go cold on Hotmail. Lots of folks, me included, stopped using Microsoft’s Web-based e-mail service in the last several years because it was a magnet for spam and a laggard when it came to adding new features. And Hotmail wasn’t exactly hip.

Guess what? That may be changing. Hotmail merits another look. Microsoft has been overhauling it with both fresh and catch-up features that address spam and clutter and give you tools to better manage your inbox. Some of the stuff is pretty cool. The new Hotmail is conveniently integrated with other Microsoft services, notably Windows Messenger (instant messaging), Bing search, online versions of Office and a Web-based storage Relevant Products/Services repository called SkyDrive. Microsoft generously lets you send sizable photo attachments.

Though Windows Live Hotmail, as it is officially called, is in a public beta or testing phase — Microsoft is still rolling out the latest features to some users — the changes are pretty much complete. (Hotmail is one of the free offerings through a suite of online applications and services called Windows Live. Hotmail can be accessed from any computer. Some other Windows Live apps must be downloaded on a PC.) The result is an e-mail service that feels contemporary.

It’s not as though Hotmail ever fell completely off the radar. On the contrary, the service is dominant worldwide at least in sheer numbers. Hotmail had about 368 million visitors in May, according to figures from ComScore Media Metrix, the latest available data Relevant Products/Services. That was more than Yahoo Mail (283 million) and Google’s Gmail (187 million). But the momentum is shifting. And in the USA, Hotmail is far behind Yahoo and only slightly ahead of Gmail. Microsoft, which has owned Hotmail since 1997, hopes to reverse the tide.

A closer look at major changes:

*Spam and junk. As part of the new Hotmail, Microsoft is making a big-time distinction between spam (malicious mail from scammers out to cause harm or mischief) and junk mail (legitimate newsletters or promotions that somewhere along the line you actually signed up for but that are now just cluttering your mailbox). You want to exorcise spam completely. But you may want to keep some of the junk around. You just want to put it where it isn’t in your face.

Microsoft claims major progress on spam, largely through behind-the-scenes efforts. It says that in 2006, 35 percent of an average Hotmail inbox was spam. The figure is down to 4 percent, even though spam across the Web has doubled during that time frame to where it now comprises 90 percent of all webmail traffic.

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