Microsoft adds new tools, features to Hotmail

Hotmail is getting a facelift.

Microsoft's free email service, the world's largest with 360 million users, added a slew of new tools and features on Tuesday including the ability to send larger attachments and exchange instant messages and view Web content in the Hotmail inbox.

"You don't have to worry about attachment size anymore," said Walter Harp, director of product management for Windows Live.

Hotmail previously restricted attachment size to 10 megabytes but "with the new Hotmail we're going to up the ante by allowing you to send up to 10 gigabytes in a single message," Harp said.

The way it works, he told AFP, is by uploading documents or photos to Microsoft's SkyDrive, a free service which allows for up to 25 gigabytes of online storage.

"The email recipient gets a link to SkyDrive and can view the photos or download the photos," Harp said. "Or if it's a link to a document, they can open up that document using the free Web-based version of Microsoft Office, view it and edit it."

Files can still be sent as traditional attachments to an email if a Hotmail user prefers and the size limit has been increased from 10 megabytes to 25 megabytes, the same as Google's Gmail, Harp said.

Hotmail is also adding instant messaging in the inbox. "Right next to your inbox you can see your buddies, see if they're online, and send them instant messages," Harp said.

Another feature designed to "help people stay in their inbox" is called "active views" and gives users the ability to view Web content in their inbox instead of in a separate Web browser window.

"Ninety percent of the mail that comes into Hotmail contains a link and these links ask you or require you to leave your inbox," Harp said. "That's a lot of hopping out of your inbox.

"There's a space at the top of your email and you can interact with other websites without having to go to them," he said. "If you get photos sent to you from Flickr, you don't have to go to Flickr, you can see them right in your inbox.

"If you get a video from YouTube or Hulu you don't have to go to those websites, you can click and watch it right there in your inbox."

Another new tool called "1-click filters" allows users to "cut through the clutter" and organize messages according to sender or subject, Harp said.

"One click gets you to mail just from your contacts," he said. "Another click gets you to mail from your social networks whether it's Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn, all in one place."

A new security feature allows Hotmail users to receive a single use password by SMS text message for use on a public computer. "If you're nervous about malware being on public computers you can use this one-time code," Harp said.

Harp also said Hotmail had made great strides fighting spam. "In 2006, 35 percent of the average Hotmail inbox was spam," he said. "We've got that number down to four percent."

He said Hotmail currently receives eight billion messages a day with users sharing 1.5 billion photos per month and 350 million Office documents per month.

Hotmail had 359.9 million users as of March 2010, according to online tracking firm comScore. Yahoo! Mail was the next largest email provider with 283.6 million users followed by Google's Gmail with 173 million users.

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