In praise of Hotmail

In praise of Hotmail

Summary: The service, which has suddenly morphed into Outlook.com, wasn't nearly as terrible as its reputation suggested - for me, at least.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Last week my Hotmail went down — for a few hours, I was unable to see my messages due to some kind of log-in problem. It turned out to be a me-specific problem, but in order to establish that I asked around Twitter, to see if any other Hotmail users had been affected.

I knew what sort of response that would get, and I certainly got it. "You still use Hotmail?! LOL!!!" is a fair paraphrasing. It's as if I'd confessed to churning my own butter, or brushing my teeth with bark. Why the heck would anyone use Hotmail in this day and age?

But I did (and I do, only now it's called Outlook.com). There are several reasons for my continued usage, and I'm sure many people use it for the same reasons — although they are probably as wary of admitting it as I was.

First off, I've had my Hotmail address for around 15 years — if it were a person, it would be able to have kids by now. I got it when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Cape Town. It was my first webmail address, certainly, and quite possibly my first email address at all (I may have briefly had an address as part of my computer science lessons at school — I can't recall).

Old Hotmail
If Hotmail were a person, it would be old enough to have kids now. Image credit: CNET News

Even in those early days, within months of Microsoft's acquisition of Hotmail, I struggled to find a vacant username that was relevant to me. Based on the name of my band at the time, I settled on 'superglaze', which lives on as my Twitter handle (and occasionally confuses people who mistake me for someone in the glass business). It was a bit contrived, but over the years I came to realise it was quite digestible, certainly compared to the lengthy strings that came to pass for webmail addresses.

From that early stage, I used my Hotmail address for signing up to newsletters and a variety of web services. As Hotmail was at the time not very good at dealing with spam, I thought I may as well throw the bacn mail (I still love that term) in there, given that nothing important was likely to be lost in the morass.

It didn't take very long for me to discover how cheap and easy it is to set up your own domain, so the Hotmail address ceased to be my primary address quite quickly. These days I mainly use Google Apps, and overall I have more addresses than I need or want.

As of yesterday, an Outlook.com address is also on that list, and my Hotmail address is more-or-less gone in the switch. It still works in the sense that people can mail it and I'll get the email in my Outlook.com account, but I can't send from it anymore. Not that I actually sent anything from that address in the last few years.

Not as bad as all that

But, while my Hotmail account had become something akin to a dirty secret, here's a confession: it was actually really good. Those who understandably fled Hotmail years ago may not be aware that, in the last year or two, it got really, really good at catching spam. As in, maybe even better than Gmail, and certainly better than the execrable Yahoo. If it was junk, it ended up in the junk folder.

What's more, I found the interface clean — not as clean as Gmail's, for sure, but I have always been confused by those who say the ads were so intrusive that they covered the text of the email. In fact, I don't even recall seeing any ads on Hotmail. Maybe I was being rewarded for being an early adopter? I have no idea. All I know is that Hotmail gave me a pretty great experience, especially for something I was supposed to be ashamed of using.

But, of course, perception is everything. When I tweeted about my own little outage, one person replied that they had turned down job applications on the basis that they were sent from a Hotmail address. That's quite harsh, but understandable in a way.

We live in an internet culture where individuality is supposedly celebrated, but where the tyranny of brand reputation is ruthlessly enforced on a collective basis. You use an iPhone? You're a snob. Hotmail? Ignoramus who's scared of change. AOL? Well, actually, there may be a point there…

I won't pretend that I'm immune. '@hotmail' may have been embarrassing, but '@outlook.com' comes with its own, far more corporate, whiff. I'd go so far as to say it's about as with-it as 'BlackBerry'. But that's OK. I'll only be using it for bacn anyway. And I'm hoping that the spam email that got into the main folder (for an address I set up less than 24 hours ago!) was merely an early-days anomaly.

So, here's to Hotmail. It was a much better service than its reputation suggested, and I mourn its passing, at least a little.

Topic: Microsoft

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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29 comments
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  • Hotmail

    Very good article. I have used the Internet myself for almost 20 years, and I don't see what's the point of changing a working concept in that drastical way. I even frowned when Yahoo Mail changed their interface.

    Thanks again, David.
    Mats Peterson
    • Yahoo!

      Yahoo! sports a really good user interface change. Great new look!
      mytake4this
  • People are cows

    gmail is hip and cool everybody flock to it. I've been using hotmail since the beginning. I tried gmail, but it doesn't really do anything hotmail doesn't do so I never bothered to switch.
    Tom Dauria
    • IMAP

      Google has IMAP available, you can check for email often, even when using POP Gmail, better filtering of Spam, and less down time.
      mytake4this
  • Sheeps

    Some kids wearing nappies may be using gmail and may be thinking that apple invented mobile phones, but those used computers before that knows the value of Hotmail...
    owllnet
    • Did you know

      that Microsoft did not "invent" hotmail either? It was bought as well. It was running on FreeBSD and sendmail. MS tried to utilize their own product but unsuccessfully, hence for quite some time they had to keep good 'ol FreeBSD and sendmail.
      eulampius
    • Really?

      You evidently have not used or done any research on email services. Hotmail has some good points, and the new Outlook.com is quite sporty, but is it constantly reliable, quick, and have IMAP capability to it? Can you check for email every couple of minutes?
      mytake4this
  • A true shame

    I too have used hotmail for 15 years and will be gutted to see it go. It's a sad reflection of our society that someone judges someone on @******.com rather than the content. What happened to the internet levelling the field so everyone is equal. It seems to be taking the world to a worse place!
    Little Old Man
    • Hotmail gave itself the black eye

      Along with the accompanying reputation for being spam ridden. Don't fool yourself in this regard.

      It also kept "reimagining" [pfft] itself every couple of years, and not always for the better. Many gravitated to this service in the beginning due to its simplicity and relatively clean interface. Shades of the concept behind the Google portal -- and its success.

      Overall, and speaking as a fellow longtime adopter, I agree with the thrust of the author's POV. But to say one didn't experience a certain degree of growing pains with HM as time went on would be to deny the painfully obvious. During that evolution many came to detest it.
      klumper
    • imap support

      Hotmail has still no imap(4) support. WTF! I don't like web interfaces in general, however, hotmail got the worst one among many competing webmail products.
      Spam filter was not good when I used it either. Gmail's spam filter is definitely much more intelligent, some even suggest it is based on spamassassin.
      Yes, spamassassin is very smart. A friend sent me a message she got from someone we had thought to be a scam. My local spamassassin (sitting on top of postfix MTA) marked it as spam.
      eulampius
  • Maybe it's just you?

    I remember when Hotmail first starting showing up and web-mail was getting popular, my sister was getting Hotmail.com emails and she thought they were all porn spam and deleted without reading. She missed lots of resume submissions to her Tech company because of that.

    I have had the same experience with Hotmail. Great spam filter, use it for bacn, have it forward my mail to my home email so I don't have to check several places for mail. Just went and checked my Hotmail and mine still is called Hotmail and didn't see "Outlook.com" anywhere. Mine has been Windows Live for a while, now, though so maybe that's it, or maybe I'm at the tail end of the conversion.
    baldwia
  • Turn down from Applications...

    Yeph I was too. In using @live.com.ph though I got better chances.

    I can't give that up because of my.... SkyDrive associated with that live account.
    TheFilipinoFlash
    • Where's the "Edit" button?

      Anyway I was about to edit this post and say that I didn't have to create an @OUtlook.com account.

      My Live account's interface was automatically changed when I went to www.outlook.com. It automatically logged in my Live.

      That's why when I used the Metro Style buttons on top and clicked SkyDrive, I felt it was weird because the SkyDrive interface was not changed yet.
      TheFilipinoFlash
  • wherz the idiot that refused that dude a job cos he had an '@hotmail'?

    I'll say: string him up, toss him up, and let everyone take target practice :)
    nessrapp
    • A lucky escape, really.

      After all, would you really want to work for such a pompous arrogant git? Most likely would take all the credit for your work, and try and palm off any issues on you.

      Sometimes, it's a good way to find out who to work for.
      Bozzer
  • Only a new interface

    Just like when Microsoft changed Hotmail to Live Mail. They also added the live.com domain but you still could go with the @hotmail.com address, I actually never got a @live.com address.

    Same thing now, site redesign, new domain for addresses but nothing forces you to get an @outlook.com address. For me as long as my @hotmail.com address is still working everything is fine, I don't even want to start telling people that my address is changing, it's like address changes when moving, you always forget someone and lose mail on the way...

    And I don't really care about the web interface, I mostly access my Hotmail through my smartphone Mail app and through Windows Live Mail program on Windows desktop.
    lepoete73
  • In praise of Hotmail

    I've had a hotmail account for years and never had a problem with it. Spam goes into the junk folder while regular mail goes into the inbox. Anyone who dismisses a candidate based on his email address is doing his company a great disservice.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • You get spam?

      Must be all those porno sites you visit.

      Doesn't your mommy know?

      Idiot.

      lol...
      CaviarBlack
  • Hotmail is always there!

    I also used Hotmail since the dawn of time. It is the one email that is always there. I can't find anything that says it is going away any time soon. Can you post the source? I use my execrable Yahoo to manage my BACN. (that is a good term!)
    slashmacleod
  • Yes, Hotmail addresses are still there, but...

    This article was more about Hotmail the service than specifically @hotmail.com the email address. Yes, those addresses will continue to work if you so choose.

    However, when you switch to the new interface (if you've not been forced to do so yet, you will be) it suggests you set up a new email address. I'm a tech journalist, so I did so to see how it worked, and because I wanted to get in early on the @outlook.com addresses, so I could get something as short and relevant as possible.

    When you do that, you leave your @hotmail address behind, irrevocably. Yes, you can avoid doing so - if you want to be really clever about it, say no to the new email address as a switching thing, and set it up independently to secure your name or whatever.

    But, as I say, this article was primarily about Hotmail the service, which is now toast.
    David Meyer