I’ve always been a web mail junkie. It’s a weird thing to be into, but it was the first real “social” tool on the Internet. And when it became something that didn’t need to be tied to my service provider, and therefore my home computer, I was hooked.
Hotmail was one of the first services. (If you can remember seeing, “HoTMaiL” back then, you’re like me – old.) Microsoft eventually bought it, and frankly let it languish. I could never understand that – Yahoo! Mail took over and suddenly everyone had one, and then Gmail introduced a better service, so now it has become the defacto web mail service.
But tonight, without much fanfare, Hotmail has been redone. I don’t know why it took Microsoft so long to get around to it, but good for them for finally fixing it up. If they’re really serious about competing with Google, they need a web mail service that people are going to actually use.
One of the reasons Google is so dominant in search is the mail service. If you’re logged into a site that gives you your mail, you’re home. If you then need to search for something, you’re not going to jump off-site to use something else – you’re going to use whatever is available to there.
In my opinion, that’s one of the big reasons Yahoo! was the big deal in search, and why Google was after that. When Yahoo! was on top, a lot of other sites had e-mail as well. Yahoo! was just doing it better than anyone else. Google hooked people on their results when they were providing results for Yahoo! – but when they gave people a better web mail product, people made iGoogle their home instead of my.yahoo.com.
The biggest improvement is that they’ve made it much easier to deal with the most common attachments. There is a search bar to the right that lets you automatically attach photos, videos, movie times, restaurants, maps and business listings. It’s good thinking, frankly – people won’t have to pop open a new window to find content to add to their mails, and it gets people to use their search engine exclusively. Leave it to Microsoft to find a way to get people to use their sub-par product to the exclusion of everything else. (Anyone remember Netscape Navigator?)
They’ve also announced a coming connectivity download to connect Hotmail to Outlook. I find it hard to get excited about that. It feels like Microsoft still feels it’s all about desktop access. If you’ve used the Internet in the last three years, of course, you know it isn’t.
What would have REALLY impressed me is if they built a cloud version of Microsoft Office to open and edit documents that come as attachments. They could easily and almost immediately trounce Google Docs. Sure, there are a lot of people using Docs, me included. But everyone is familiar with Office already. If they created an on line version, it could offer people the tools they’re already familiar with, but include the sharing and online storage Google has.
Perhaps that will come later. I tend to doubt it, since they still make so much money selling Office to people every few years. But if they are serious about getting people to look at Hotmail and Bing as their new “home,” they do need to stop thinking about the desktop and keep building their web presence.