It’s hard to believe now, but at one time — 1996, in fact — Hotmail was the best email available on the web. Microsoft acquired the former “HoTMaiL” in 1997 for $400 million, back in the day when looking at your email on the web, as opposed to a dedicated desktop client, was still a wild new idea.
Hotmail quickly dominated web-based email. It’s still hugely popular, with roughly 360 million monthly users. Google’s Gmail has only just overtaken it in popularity.
Of course, that’s all history.
When Google launched Gmail in 2004, Google offered more storage, larger attachment sizes and a search function that allowed you to look through your email without, you know, actually looking through it.
In the same period, Hotmail became a living example of the way the web can quickly create and then destroy hugely popular products: Microsoft took it through several rebrandings: as Microsoft Hotmail, Windows Live Hotmail, MSN Hotmail, and now Outlook.com. (Even though web users keep their Hotmail.com addresses.)
The new Hotmail, under Microsoft’s Outlook redesign, is actually fantastic. It’s super-fast, and super-easy to use. Aside from one key flaw, it makes Gmail feel out of date.
This was the old Hotmail. It was pretty awful. Everything on this page was slow to load. The red arrow indicates the little icons that were often tough to click on. You had to hit them just right. And note the hopelessly small 25MB storage space.
Before the redesign, Microsoft tried to fix the upload problem with a system called Silverlight, which it asked all users to install. This thing never worked properly, and at times sending attachments in Hotmail was almost impossible. HotFAIL at its worst!
This is the new Hotmail. It's totally stripped down. Super simple. No instructions needed. Note the ads are discreetly off to the side
This incredibly minimalist new email palette. It's almost entirely white space — a huge visual change for both Microsoft and Hotmail, both of which are famous for their boxy clutter.
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