Hotmail Refreshed With Interface Makeover

Microsoft's MSN product team has turned up the heat by revitalizing its Hotmail Web service. A refresh of the site has gone live complete with a makeover of its overall air. It adds new task oriented icons that make Hotmail appear consistent with Office 2003's Outlook Web access utility, and features improved spam filtering.

The update marks the first major alteration of the Hotmail user experience since the service launched.

A beta preview of the updated service was made available to gauge customer feedback over the proposed changes several weeks back. However, the final version adds much more than what was reported by Windows enthusiast sites at the time.

According to Microsoft, a new default sign-in page dubbed "Today" provides an "at-a-glance" display of user accounts. Only mail from known senders and contacts will be shown in this view. Other items shown on the Today page indicate account and folder status.

Hotmail's e-mail management icons are now similar to those found in Microsoft Outlook 2003. Specific changes include: a paperclip for attachments, an exclamation point for e-mails requiring an urgent response, and a question mark applied to unknown senders.

In addition to jazzier icons, the interface for the managing and reporting of junk mail has undergone vast improvements. Other features that will be most noticeable to users of Microsoft Outlook include "Instant Reply" and changes to managing contacts.

Instant Reply allows a recipient to respond to an e-mail over MSN Messenger, provided the sender is online. The option will not be available if the user is offline.

Known contacts can now be grouped, designated as favorites and otherwise managed with new Web tools. The process of adding and importing contacts has been revamped as well. Lastly, users of MSN Hotmail can now share vCards to exchange contact information.

Other recent tests underway at MSN include the development of a "newsbot" and online music store. The next generation MSN client has yet to be released to the general public, but is expected soon.

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