The Hotmail name has a heritage. It was one of the earliest webmail services and according to Brian Hall, general manager of what's still called the Windows Live team, it's still "the world's largest webmail service". So why do away with the name?
Outlook has a lot of brand recognition too, of course and Hall told TechRadar "we took the best of each of those, but we also recognised that we needed to move on to do something new". That's not just the "modern, clean design" that's intended to work well on smartphones and tablets, but tools to help with the two biggest categories of email we get these days.
"Email is now only one of the ways people communicate online," Hall points out. "In particular a lot of personal connections have migrated to social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Linked In so we decided to connect those in to Outlook.com in smart ways."
Updates from social networks are a whopping 17% of all the email people get, according to Hall (we're flattered to see our tweets in his inbox). That's why Outlook.com shows you information about friends from social networks next to their messages, where you can follow them if you don't already and pictures in your address book.
And the rest? "50% is newsletters, with a growing percentage of those being daily deals, so we saw an opportunity to treat those differently." That means tools to sweep older messages out of your inbox if you want (when that daily deal has expired, say).
That sounds very like a feature we liked in Hotmail? "We took all the features we knew people really liked forward to Outlook.com," agrees Hall. "Some of the stuff in the releases over the last year including graymail tools, shipping updates, notifications, photo slide shows and the like, aliases as a technology… If we thought something was really good in Hotmail we didn't shy away from moving that forward. But then there's a bunch of stuff that's new."
An issue of reputation?
Although Hall doesn't say so, one reason for the name change could be that Hotmail's reputation still suffered from old problems that are long fixed.
"Certainly we have had some issues with spam" he admits readily. "In 2006, 2007, Hotmail had some challenges with spam. If you look at the spam filters that we have today, that we use and tune through Exchange and Hotmail; as of February we were reviewed as having the best spam protection of any email service.
"We've taken that technology, improved it with some special sauce that now has been rolled into Outlook and we're pretty confident we have good spam protection."
Updating the calendar
Eventually, the Hotmail name will disappear completely. First comes "a beautiful new user interface for SkyDrive that we'll release in the next month". Next is an update to the Hotmail calendar, which has neither the name nor the look of Outlook.com."
"It's one of the reasons we're referring to Outlook.com as a preview," Hall confides. He doesn't put a date on updating the calendar or on when Microsoft will stop letting you get a new Hotmail address and send everyone to Outlook.com instead. "We have no plans for a long protracted beta or preview. I would imaging we would upgrade the Hotmail base to outlook sometime in the next year but we're not putting a timeframe on it specifically right now."
The Windows Live name is going away as well; although you'll see lots of references to using a Microsoft account to sign in across Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox and Office 2013, that's not the replacement Hall says. "We offer some great services but we don't have an umbrella concept like Windows Live was before."