Can Hotmail Revamp Win Back GMail Defectors?

It predates Gmail by years but has been overlooked for some time. Now Microsoft wants to get Hotmail back in the game.

Microsoft's Hotmail has been around 15 years, longer than even Google. Some of you may remember it was rendered "HoTMaiL." But it fell victim to a deadly combination of Google momentum that included Gmail and Hotmail becoming a haven for spammers, both for sending it and being able to bombard you with it.

So, with Hotmail as part of its Live strategy, Microsoft was determined to bring its old e-mail service back to life. It cleaned up its act with the spammers, cutting Inbox spam to just 3 percent, it claims.

Now comes the new look, new featured Windows Live Hotmail (its full, formal name). Having knocked spam on its butt, Microsoft now wants to get at what it calls "graymail," mail that isn't quite spam, but not exactly wanted and welcomed, either. Dick Craddock, group program manager for Hotmail explained on a blog post.

"We realized that getting rid of true spam wasn’t enough, because 75% of the email messages that people reported as spam are really legitimate newsletters, offers, or notifications that you just don’t want anymore," he wrote on the Windows Live blog.

Tell me about it. Make one purchase from a vendor and if you don't remember to uncheck the box giving them approval to send you offers, you get bombarded daily. Amazon and drive me absolutely crazy. Craddock puts these in the category of Newsletters & Deals, which account for half of all unwanted e-mail.

Other new features in Hotmail include:

Newsletter Filtering: Hotmail already automatically categorizes messages on a number of criteria. Now you can add your newsletters to the categories so they can all be routed to a folder instead of the main Inbox.

One-click Unsubscribe: Rather than forcing you to go to an e-mail newsletter Website and through the ritual of unsubscribing (this can be a nuisance), Hotmail will contact the site mailing you to inform it to stop sending mail, use its Sweep function to clean up all the old newsletters from that sender, and send any new e-mail from that sender to the Junk Mail folder.

Schedule Cleanup: This is somewhat like the Outlook wizards that perform functions to keep the mailbox organized. You can configure it on a per-sender basis to move messages to other folders or delete messages after a certain period.

Flags Done Right: That's how Microsoft put it. Hotmail has supported flags for some time, but now it will add the ability to keep flagged messages pinned to the top of the inbox even as newer mail comes in. Sweep also works with flags, so you can flag and then Sweep messages from a particular sender.

Custom Gategories: In addition to the built-in categories, Hotmail will soon add the ability to create your own custom categories, backed by Sweep and Schedule Cleanup, so you can organize your email as you wish. Custom categories show up in Hotmail's Quick Views right next to the regular folders.

Instant Actions and a customizable UI: Microsoft added Instant Actions as you hover over messages, such as delete, flag or Sweep. You can also add or remove buttons to the Instant Actions option.

So, what do you say? Will this make you Gmail users give Hotmail a second look? Talk back below.

Welcome regulars and new readers alike. Here are a few more recent blog items from yours truly. You may follow me on Twitter here.

Apple has Scared Microsoft Worse Than We Thought

Intel Joins the Windows 8 Developer Push

What Will be our Options When it Comes to Metro?

Microsoft Patents Smart Cloud Storage

Microsoft's Push Back Against Spammers

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in