As anticipated, Microsoft today launched Windows Live Hotmail worldwide with a spiffy new AJAX interface and the intent of retiring its venerable MSN Hotmail which has over 280 million users. Some key aspects:
There are more new features and aside from the nomenclature madness, this all seems worthwhile, but now begins the long transition of existing users which Major anticipates will be complete by November. I can’t help but observe that the transition would be faster if they had the Outlook Connector and the new Live Mail client ready now.
Update: Ina Fried has an interesting Hotmail background story that reveals that the new AJAX interface was deemed too slow, particularly on dial-up lines, and that was the reason that an updated “classic” interface was reintroduced to the final product at some delay.
Windows Live Mail is still on deck as Microsoft’s free Web email service replacement, but Richard Sim, Microsoft’s Senior Product Manager, let’s us know that they have decided to keep the Hotmail brand:
Just on the heels of another great release for the beta (M9), I’d like to share some interesting news to our loyal users. When we launch the mail service worldwide, it will be named Windows Live Hotmail. That’s right! And for starters, some of you will begin to see the Windows Live Hotmail brand show up in the beta – first in our Microsoft internal version (dogfood) and eventually in the public version in the coming weeks.
As we brought users onboard to this new service and had them kick the tires, we learned quickly that users loved it. We knew we were onto a good thing. We also found that many users were extremely loyal to the Hotmail brand and perceived the beta as an upgrade to Hotmail. In fact, our most loyal users have been very happy with Hotmail for years and while they loved the improvements in the beta, some were a bit confused by name change.
As we prepare to launch the final version of our new web mail service, we recognize the importance of ensuring that our 260+ million existing customers come over to the new service smoothly and without confusion. By adopting the name “Windows Live Hotmail”, we believe we’re bringing together the best of both worlds – new and old. We’re able to offer the great new technology that Windows Live has to offer while also bringing the emotional connection many existing and loyal users have with Hotmail.
It also obviates any reason for the awful task of switching the existing user base from hotmail.com email addresses. I’ve seen comments both pro and con, but can’t help but think this is a good branding decision.
What we need now is a campaign to rename Windows Live Mail desktop to something less unwieldy which also respects our brand with lots of mindshare. Perhaps Windows Live Outlook Express? :)
Microsoft’s Benjamin Poon yesterday announced a Windows Live Mail Preview Launch in the Netherlands, but apparently it was overwhelmed at first by demand from users wanting to convert their Hotmail accounts and jump on board. Meanwhile, sneaky users have been figuring out ways to game the preview process to make an early grab for desired email addresses outside the Netherlands.
According to Techlog, a beta of Windows Live Connection Center Wi-Fi has opened for selected beta testers of Office 2007. The Center offers a Wi-Fi client that helps the user identify and connect to local Wi-Fi networks and a HotSpot Locator (HSL) Web site that provides a searchable list of public hotspots.
Required Hardware / Software: Operating System – Windows XP, (Vista compatibility be added with RC1, currently scheduled for September 2006) and access to wireless hotspots. Note: the WLCC Wi-Fi Suite Beta will not run on handheld devices such as Pocket PCs or BlackBerries.
The Windows Live Connection Center Wi-Fi Suite beta will begin August 22, 2006 and continue through early 2007.
All this is swell, but it’s not clear what Microsoft is really bringing to the table. The client really isn’t an online (i.e. “Live”) application since it installs on the user’s PC and every maker of Wi-FI adapters already ships a client with similar functionality which contends with the native Windows support for control of Wi-Fi configuration. If Microsoft wanted to spiff it up, why not just spiff up the operating system support instead of adding a 3rd player to the mix?
As for the HSL Web site, a search on your favorite search engine for “Wi-Fi hotspots” will yield an number of Web sites that provide equivalent functionality as well, including the mapping that HSL gets with a tie to Windows Live Local.
Microsoft has confirmed further details of its forthcoming Live Drive service, which will offer free online storage that can be mapped directly from PCs running the forthcoming Vista operating system.
Speaking at a blogger’s breakfast prior to the opening of Tech Ed in Sydney, Microsoft Australia technical specialist John Hodgson said that the basic Live Drive was likely to include around 2G of storage for free. Additional storage capacity would be available for purchase, though pricing schemes and final release dates haven’t been announced.
Hopefully, this was some sort of miscommunication as there is no obvious reason why Live Drive, unlike current competitors in online storage (e.g. Xdrive, which is offering 5GB free), should be saddled with a Vista only restriction for drive mapping.
Finally, there was an interesting beta of the Windows Live Contacts Gadget which:
… enables end users to use their Windows Live contacts (from Windows Live Mail/Hotmail and Messenger) with third party (non-Microsoft) web sites, conveniently and securely. The gadget works with any web server, most browsers, and doesn’t require reams of license or partnership paperwork with Microsoft. You don’t have to assimilate your web server into the Microsoft collective in order to play with Windows Live contact data.
Very clever! There are more details by following the link, but I have to reiterate my caveat from when Windows Live Contacts was first announced: Windows Live Contacts is just one of many places where users can and will store contact information. Thereby, the utility of the gadget is limited and probably always will be as application developers within and without Microsoft resist giving up control of “their” contacts.
Update: Windows Live testing video search.