$1.1 billion spent by web giant - but why? Here's all you need to know
Hotmail declares war: rolls out new features
From its humble beginnings back in 1997 (remember that 2MB storage limit?), Hotmail has helped both pioneer and become the face of web mail.
Fast-forward to 2011; the advent of HTML5 makes the tried and tested experience quicker and any challengers to its throne have been shrugged off. Instead Hotmail has focused all of its attention (and huge investment) on making our inboxes a safer, and more organised place.
We only need to look back at the amount of spam hitting our inboxes in 2006 (35% if you're interested) to see the huge progress Hotmail has made. That figure today stands at a lowly 3%.
The threat from spam is a huge global concern; a recent security report from Symantec demonstrated that 90% of the mail on the internet is of spam origin. More worryingly, the spam we receive isn't our only nemesis - a huge chunk of that is being sent out using Hotmail accounts. And it is for this very reason why Hotmail has invested in ingenious SmartScreen technology, the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and new features like "My friend's been hacked!" - which alerts Hotmail if an account has been compromised.
What is graymail?
Graymail is a blanket term given to all manner of unwanted email (think newsletters or product offers) that you're receiving after signing up on a legitimate website. It may not be spam, but this type of mail will soon clutter up your inbox and has you reaching for that 'unsubscribe' button.
Hotmail's new tools
With this release, Hotmail has added five new tools in a bid to wage war on graymail and restore some order to your inbox.
Ever wanted to delete an email, quickly flag a message, or move mail to a completely different folder with just one click of the mouse? Well now you can.
Instant Actions are just that; useful commands that can be performed instantaneously. Plus they can be programmed so you can tailor the actions to those you use most frequently.
To use, just hover your mouse over an email and click the action of your choosing. Try it now.
If you have ever used Outlook (from Microsoft Office) you'll already appreciate the power of flagging email messages. Flagged emails will stay at the top of your inbox (like 'sticky' posts on message boards) until you decide to unflag them.
You can flag and unflag an email by clicking on the red flag icon next to the corresponding message.
Scheduled clean-up is like tidying your house, but better still, getting somebody else to do it for you.
If you're finding you don't have enough time to read your daily emails, yet alone those newsletters that are over a week old, scheduled clean-up could make your inbox a more manageable place.
In simple terms you can set Hotmail to delete all emails over x days/weeks old, or choose to only keep the latest message from a particular sender.
Just indicate the emails you want included, along with the frequency (choose from 3, 10, 30 or 60 days), sit back and let Hotmail do its thing.
Thanks to the power of HTML5 you can now create/rename/delete folders on the fly.
It only takes one click to create a new folder, whilst a right-click allows you rename, mark a folder as unread, delete or empty its contents.
This shows just how easy it is to carry out some of those less-exciting mail management tasks - but it doesn't half make your inbox a more organised and altogether nicer place to be.
Hotmail aficionados have been using the criminally-overlooked Sweep function for some time (the feature itself isn't new) but it's now more tantalising than ever.
Some people like having their inbox filled with clutter, letting tens (if not hundreds) emails pile up, whereas some are hoarders who are more oragnised but keep their entire life in their inbox. Or you may just delete your mail straight away, without giving it a second thought.
Sweep will automatically categorise your emails into helpful buckets like Newsletters/Contacts/Social Updates/Groups and everything else that doesn't fit.
And the five new tools are only the tip of the iceberg - Microsoft say this is only the beginning.
A modern web mail service needs to stay ahead of the pack, and if Hotmail has been guilty of dragging its heels, that past is now behind it. Hotmail's servers are being made bigger every week (by about a petabyte - a million gigabytes) and massive investment is being made to deliver a greater number of updates more frequently. Hotmail is unique in this respect, as there aren't many companies that can pledge this sort of investment.
If you haven't tried out a few of Hotmail's other clever features such as importing your Facebook contacts, Office WebApps and SkyDrive integration, now is a great time to take another look.
Hotmail on Android
Microsoft have also announced the availability of an official Hotmail app for Android.