How Hotmail changed Microsoft (and email) forever
Hotmail, now rebranded as Outlook, is often credited as one of the first webmail services and was founded in 1996 by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith in Mountain View, California. The commercial name was chosen as Hotmail because it included the letters “HTML”, the language that was used to create web pages.
The ability for users to access their inbox from anywhere in the world was an extremely convenient feature. People were amazed by the fact that their email was on the web instead of being downloaded locally via POP. It was a product designed the right way and indeed Hotmail was a sure success, with a record 8.5 million subscribers by December 1997.
Word of mouth was the biggest contributor to Hotmail’s instantaneous growth. At first, it registered a few hundred users but it was seen that the registrations were not that staggering during the initial phase. It was suggested to the founders to include a “Tagline” into each email (“Get your free email at HoTMaiL”) and lo & behold, the service boomed like there was no end. Users wondered what other features could Hotmail provide and this prompted them to involve and consequently invite their family, friends, coworkers, etc. to this ever expanding service. As a result, the user base grew from the mere hundreds to a whooping 1 million within six months!
With no advertising or marketing, Hotmail owed its growth to the word of mouth by its early users. Since a person’s relatives and friends are scattered all around the globe, so spreading the word about Hotmail was just an email away. Soon, users from various countries started registering to this new service and as a matter of fact, first email provider is hotmail in many regions. People were flocking to it because of its simplicity and due to the fact that others around them were using it to communicate too.
Hotmail and Microsoft
Hotmail was extremely popular is many regions due to localization and was the largest webmail service at that time. Microsoft bought Hotmail in December 1997 for nearly $400 million as part of its MSN group of services and over the course of a couple of years, it gained a massive 30 million active members. Since it ran on a mixture of FreeBSD and Solaris operating systems, Microsoft later moved Hotmail to Windows 2000. During further development, Hotmail was integrated with various Microsoft’s services like MSN messenger, MSN spaces, etc.
Windows Live Hotmail
Microsoft decided to phase out the Hotmail brand and replace it with its Windows Live brand instead. But due to the beta-testers’ confusion over the name change, Microsoft evidently backtracked and kept the well known Hotmail name intact. Windows Live Hotmail was released to the users in 2007 and soon the 260 million Hotmail accounts were able to migrate to the latest experience. With better usability features, improved user experience and increased storage space, Windows Live Hotmail was a success among its users and was awarded PC Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award three times.
Future updates included Firefox support, Windows Live Messenger integration and Bing integration. The feature additions were as follows:
- 1-click filters
- Active views
- Inbox Sweeping
- Increased storage space
But Microsoft didn’t stop there. They kept on improving the experience of its users by more useful additions, like Windows Live SkyDrive and Windows Live Office integrations, addition of aliases, instant actions, scheduled sweep and categories. This proved that Microsoft was dedicated to its user base and was keen on improving its service on all fronts.
Rebranding to Outlook
Transition to Microsoft Outlook took place during 2012 – 2013, with Microsoft providing its users with an option to upgrade to the new @outlook.com domain. If a user didn’t want to switch to the new domain, he/she could still use their old @hotmail.com domain with the same functionality as before. Outlook.com had approximately 400 million active users by May 2013. The service was completely redesigned with UI and UX improvements at each and every point.
Some of its features included:
- Active View
- Office Online Integration
- Skype Integration
- Quick views and one-click filters
- Improved security and privacy
In 2015, Microsoft started offering Mobile applications known as Outlook Mobile for Android and iOS which allowed users to sync the content of their inbox and view them on the go.
When we look at the transition that Hotmail went through for over a decade, it can be clearly seen that it became an essential part in the lives of various people who used it as their means of communication. The features that it provided were incremental and somewhat better than its competitors. Hotmail truly deserves the credit of being called the father of webmail services and due to its continued contribution as a quality service its recognition will never fade away.