I know. Just let me finish. It sounds crazy — Hotmail is the leper colony of email, right? The running joke, the email potato famine we all fled for Gmail a decade ago — yeah. But that was then. Hotmail is changing.
The reason is simple: Hotmail is trying again. And they're trying hard, because they have to: at the moment, Hotmail is associated with nothing but mums, failure, antiquity and ignorance. But the gussied up look and new features reported by WinRumors (and set to roll out this month) point to a sea change for Hotmail — it's not sitting on its rotten '90s laurels anymore. It wants to be back in the fight.
Part of the new refresh is pure catchup: the long, long overdue addition of starred messages and folders, which are both totally elementary to any Gmail user. It's kind of cute and pathetic that Hotmail took this long.
But the other half is genuinely interesting — an adjective I didn't think I'd ever apply to Hotmail. Scheduled cleanups could make your inbox a hell of a lot less overwhelming, moving (or nuking) messages from certain senders after a set time period. Say, killing all my Facebook notification emails after two days. Or moving all of my online bank statements to their own folder after a month. Gmail's Priority Inbox is nice, but it deals with presentation, not volume — a Hotmail scheduled cleanup actually beats dust out of your inbox.
Beyond meagre functionality, much of Hotmail's stigma stems from being such an old, homely thing to use, an undead vision of the internet when it was acceptable to be ugly. That's not so much the case anymore — it resembles Gmail more than ever. But neat little UI treats like Hotmail's new Instant Actions prove an interest in making your inbox more than just adequate — command your inbox around with as few clicks as possible. Rather than having to highlight messages or dive inside them, Instant Actions gives you a set of customisable icons that appear over each email when you hover, letting you, say, delete or move it. A simple addition, but one of those whose saved seconds could really add up.
I'm not saying Hotmail is as good as Gmail. It's not. I'm not saying Microsoft is close to catching up. It isn't. But the effort to steal the good parts of Gmail and add things Google hasn't cooked up yet is exciting, if only for the fact that it makes Hotmail a word I don't feel embarrassed about anymore — it's becoming something worth thinking about again, rather than a mustard stain.
So open it up if you have a mouldy old account, or give it a run through for the first time. You might like it. And if you don't, at least give Microsoft the daps they deserve for trying to modernise a steam engine here (and look forward to seeing scheduled cleanups pop up in your Gmail account by next year). Beyond just surviving, Microsoft might actually come out with a reboot of the humdrum that's genuinely awesome. They're pretty awesome at that, these days.