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Windows Live Hotmail inbox
Developer(s) Microsoft
Initial release July 4, 1996 (1996-07-04)
Stable release Wave 3 (Build 15.1.3020.0910) / 2009-9-10; 385922153 ago
Available in 36 languages[1]
Type Webmail
License Proprietary

Windows Live Hotmail, formerly known as MSN Hotmail and commonly referred to simply as Hotmail, is a free web-based email service operated by Microsoft as part of its Windows Live group. It was founded by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith. Launching in July 1996 as "HoTMaiL" and funded by the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, it was one of the first web-based e-mail services.[2] Its original name and capitalization refers to HTML, the encoding language used by the World Wide Web. It was also one of the first free e-mail providers. It was subsequently acquired by Microsoft in 1997 for an estimated $400 million, and shortly after it was rebranded as "MSN Hotmail". The current version, "Windows Live Hotmail", was officially announced in 2005 and released worldwide in 2007.

Windows Live Hotmail features 5GB of storage that expands as necessary,[3] security measures for which patents have been filed,[4] Ajax technology, and integration with Windows Live Messenger, Spaces, Calendar, and Contacts[5]. It has over 270 million users worldwide as of 2008. It is available in 36 different languages.[1][6]

The Hotmail development and operations groups are based in Mountain View, California. When Hotmail Corporation was an independent company, its headquarters was in Sunnyvale, California.[7]



Similar to other major webmail services, Hotmail uses Ajax programming techniques and supports popular internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox). Some of its features include keyboard controls giving the ability to navigate around the page without using the mouse, the ability to search[8] the user's messages including structured query syntax such as "from:ebay", message filters, folder-based organization of messages, auto-completion of contact addresses when composing, contact grouping, importing and exporting of contacts as CSV files, rich text formatting, rich text signatures, spam filtering and virus scanning, support for multiple addresses, and different language versions. POP3 access is now available for all Hotmail accounts.[9]


Upon registration, new users can choose from a Hotmail domain address (e.g., and


Launch of Hotmail

Hotmail service was founded by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, and was one of the first webmail services on the Internet. It was commercially launched on July 4, 1996, American Independence Day, symbolizing "freedom" from ISP-based e-mail [10] and the ability to access a user's inbox from anywhere in the world. The name "Hotmail" was chosen out of many possibilities ending in "-mail" as it included the letters HTML - the coding used behind all web pages (to emphasize this, the original type casing was "HoTMaiL"). Hotmail was initially backed by venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson. By December 1997, it reported more than 8.5 million subscribers.[11]

MSN Hotmail

Hotmail was sold to Microsoft in December 1997 for a reported $400 million, and it joined the MSN group of services.[12] Hotmail quickly gained in popularity as it was localized for different markets around the globe and became the world's largest webmail service, and reported more than 30 million active members by February 1999.[13]

Hotmail originally ran on a mixture of FreeBSD and Solaris operating systems.[14] A project was started to move Hotmail to Windows 2000. In June 2001, Microsoft claimed this had been completed; a few days later they retracted and admitted that the DNS functions of the Hotmail system were still reliant on FreeBSD.[15]

Later development saw the service tied with Microsoft's web authentication scheme, Microsoft Passport (now Windows Live ID), and integration with Microsoft's instant messaging and social networking programs, MSN Messenger and MSN Spaces (now Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Spaces, respectively). A security issue appeared in Hotmail during this period that permitted anybody to log into any Hotmail account using the password 'eh'; it was at the time called "the most widespread security incident in the history of the Web."[16]

The old MSN Hotmail inbox

In 2001, the Hotmail service was compromised again by computer hackers who discovered that anyone could log into their Hotmail account and then cull messages from any other Hotmail account by crafting a URL with the second account's username and a valid message number. It was such a simple attack that by the time the patch was made, dozens of newspapers and hundreds of web sites published exact descriptions allowing tens-of-thousands of hackers to run rampant across Hotmail. The exploitable vulnerability exposed millions of accounts to tampering between August 7 and 31, 2001.[17][18]

After a period of technological stagnation, the webmail industry received a significant boost in 2004 when Google announced its own mail service, Gmail. Featuring increased storage space, speed and interface flexibility, this new competitor spurred a wave of innovation in webmail. The main industry heavyweights – Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail – introduced upgraded versions of their e-mail services with greater speed, security, and advanced features.

Windows Live Hotmail

Microsoft's new e-mail system was announced on November 1, 2005, under the codename "Kahuna", and a beta version was released to a few thousand testers. Other webmail enthusiasts also wanting to try the beta version could request an invitation granting access. The new service was built from scratch and emphasized three main concepts of being "faster, simpler, and safer". New versions of the beta service were rolled out over the development period, and by the end of 2006 the number of beta testers had reached the millions.[19]

The Hotmail brand was planned to be phased-out when Microsoft announced that the new mail system would be called Windows Live Mail, but the developers soon backtracked after beta-testers were confused with the name change and preferred the already well-known Hotmail name, and decided on Windows Live Hotmail. After a period of beta testing, it was officially released to new and existing users in the Netherlands on November 9, 2006, as a pilot market. Development of the beta was finished in April 2007, Windows Live Hotmail was released to new registrations on May 7, 2007, as the 260 million MSN Hotmail accounts worldwide gained access to the new system. The old MSN Hotmail interface was accessible only by users who registered before the Windows Live Hotmail release date and had not chosen to update to the new service. The roll-out to all existing users was completed in October 2007.

Windows Live Hotmail was awarded PC Magazine's Editor's Choice Award in February 2007[20] and again in March 2007 with a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.[21]

It was announced in 2008 on the Windows Live Hotmail website[22] that the service would be updated with focus on improving the speed, increasing the storage space, better user experience and usability features. It was announced that sign-in and email access speeds will be up to 70 percent faster. The classic and full versions of Windows Live Hotmail are combined in the new release. As a result of user feedback, Hotmail has been updated so that scrolling works for users who have the reading pane turned off. It is also expected that Hotmail team will be moving the advertisement from the top of page to the side, adding more themes, increasing the number of messages on each page, and adding the ability to send instant messages from the user's inbox in future releases.[23]

Support for Mozilla Firefox in the upgraded Windows Live Hotmail took a few months to complete.[24] Full version support for Google Chrome was also added on November 4, 2008. On October 30, 2008, some account holders using various Linux based browsers started experiencing read-only access.[25] However, with the use of a user agent switcher to dupe Hotmail into thinking the user is accessing from Windows, normal functionality is restored, which indicates that Windows Live Hotmail is only allowing certain browsers at the moment.

As part of the update, Microsoft also added integrated capability for instant messaging with contacts on the Windows Live Messenger service. The feature is the realization of a project that began as "Windows Live Web Messenger" in 2007, a replacement for the outdated "MSN Web Messenger" service that was first launched back in August 2004. It was noted that the original "Windows Live Web Messenger" featured tabbed conversations in a "conversation workspace", however since its integration with Hotmail this has been removed.[26][27]

Desktop mail client access


POP3 access is available for all Hotmail accounts, adding support to access Hotmail from any email client – most notably mobile devices.[9]


Hotmail was often criticized for allowing only paying subscribers to access it through the WebDAV protocol, which allows e-mails to be downloaded locally via a desktop e-mail client such as Microsoft Outlook Express or Mozilla Thunderbird (with the WebMail extension). WebDAV access was originally available to all Hotmail users, but the service was revoked from new free users in 2004. If a Hotmail account was older than 2004, it was still possible for users to freely access their Hotmail account outside of an internet browser with the above-mentioned programs using WebDAV. If users had a newer account, WebDAV access was only available in Hotmail Premium. On June 4, 2009 Microsoft informed that WebDAV will be available until September 1, 2009.[28][29]


For access through Outlook 2003 or Outlook 2007, users can download the free Microsoft Office Outlook Connector. Using the Outlook connector, users can freely access e-mail messages and contacts in any Hotmail account, though access to calendar, tasks and notes requires a premium subscription. Another alternative for users is to use the Windows Live Mail desktop client which has built-in support for Hotmail.[30] Both applications, Windows Live Mail and Microsoft Outlook, can access Hotmail through the proprietary DeltaSync protocol. Currently no Mac alternative utilizing DeltaSync exists, as Microsoft Entourage does not support it. There has been no word from Microsoft Entourage or Windows Live Hotmail as to whether an "Entourage Connector" will be available in the future.


IMAP is not supported.

Spam policy and filtering

Like all the major webmail services, Hotmail is often used by spammers for illicit purposes such as junk or chain mailing and unwanted marketing, due to its wide availability, its popularity, and its ease of registration of new accounts. However, Hotmail does not tolerate this practice, and accounts engaging in these activities are terminated without warning.[31][32]

See also



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