Hotmail complaints keep flowing in

The drip-drip-drip of user dissatisfaction suggests that all is not well at Hotmail, although Microsoft insists otherwise

Over 50 people have contacted ZDNet UK in the last two months to complain of problems accessing Microsoft's Hotmail service.

Some complainants say they have been unable to access the Hotmail log-in page, while others say they can't get as far as their own inbox.

Although these complaints represent only a fraction of the total Hotmail user base in the UK, they indicate that Microsoft's flagship Web email service may still be suffering from problems that first emerged earlier this year.

Back in February, Microsoft confirmed that server problems were preventing some Hotmail users from accessing the service. Since then, some 150 people have posted TalkBacks to ZDNet UK complaining about the service, despite Microsoft's claim that the problems have been fixed.

One reader said this week that he had only sporadic access to his account and could find no technical reason for this. "Over the last two months I've sometimes been getting a window showing that Hotmail is suffering technical problems when I try to log in. It's completely random as sometimes it will let you log in straight after and other times it won't for hours," he said.

Another reader reported that she had a similar experience, where she could not access her inbox.

"It wouldn't let me into anything on my account. The only thing I could use was my MSN Messenger. It lasted for about a month and definitely wasn't the computer as my housemates and friends could get into their accounts. Eventually, randomly, it just started letting me use it again, it wasn't that I had used too much memory — I'm using barely any, I have no idea what caused it," she said earlier this month.

Other users were able to access the Hotmail homepage but could then get no further — with pages timing out frustratingly.

"The main problem I had was the page timing out after entering my log-in details," said another Hotmail user. A further customer added "I have tried using both Firefox and Internet Explorer. When logging in using Firefox I get a time out error."

Some Hotmail users have also complained that they got limited support from Microsoft when a problem was reported. One told us...

For more, click here... he repeatedly tried to contact Hotmail but received little or no help. "After sending Microsoft numerous emails they eventually got back to me saying they were aware of the problem and a couple of days later it was fixed. They explained one of their servers had crashed," he said.

Another said he had lost all hope of Microsoft fixing the service. "This has been addressed by Hotmail at least half a dozen times, by half a dozen 'experts' and I am still at point zero. In essence, my account was working OK for a number of years and decided to go temperamental," he said. "It's obviously a computer fault, but even so a solution should not be beyond the wit of Microsoft experts, I have tried all suggested solutions," he added.

After receiving a steady stream of complaints about Hotmail in the first half of this year, ZDNet UK contacted Microsoft in June about the issue. At the time, Microsoft insisted that the earlier problems had been solved.

The company is adamant that this is still the case and denies that the complaints received by ZDNet UK are indicative of wider problems.

"We have had no reports of anything out of the ordinary," said a Microsoft spokeswoman, who insisted that the problems reported earlier this year have been addressed.

But one analyst cautioned that Microsoft risked losing Hotmail customers who suffered a poor service, even if they aren't in a position to take legal action.

"From a legal reputation they are covered but from a services reputation they are on a sticky wicket," said Jon Collins, principal analyst at Quocirca, who suggested that disgruntled users consider using an email service provided by their own Internet service provider.

"There is likely to be a slow migration away from Hotmail towards ISP email services. I would suggest checking what service you are getting from your ISP and go for the one you are already paying for. Those terms and conditions will be a lot more comprehensive and a lack of accountability can't be claimed," Collins added.