Matt Farrington-Smith
05/10/2011 13:12 | By Matt Farrington-Smith, editor, Tech & Gadgets

Hotmail: is it better than you remembered?

Microsoft say it's time to give Hotmail another look, so let's see how Hotmail has cleaned up its act.


Hotmail has a long and interesting history. Hotmail's roots date back to 1997 and the free webmail service is still the number one choice across the world (notwithstanding the US, where it lies a close third).

Hotmail in 2006. Before it was rebranded Windows Live Hotmail. Image Microsoft

Hotmail in 2006. Before it was rebranded Windows Live Hotmail.


Then and now

A lot has happened with Hotmail between 2006 and present day 2011.

Technology moves quicker than fibre-optic cables are laid beneath our streets, and when Microsoft added some brand-new features to its Hotmail service, it also apologised for not keeping up with evolution.

Hotmail's story is one that needs to be told, and now it is more pertinent than ever. Take a look at the first official Hotmail app for Android and the concerted effort it's made to wage a war against "graymail".



Hotmail as it appears now in 2011. Image MSN

Hotmail as it appears now in 2011.



Speed


Then: Getting your mail quickly and sending huge emails (often with dozens of photos attached) is a pretty important facet of any email service. Back in 2006 you might have struggled, but today Hotmail is estimated to be around 10 times faster.

But why the huge speed increase?

Now: A lot of this improvement is down to data that Hotmail stores on your PC.

When you visit Hotmail, some data is cached to your browser (and it stays there for the duration of your visit). This means that Hotmail doesn't need to load this data from Hotmail's servers, as it already has everything it needs.

Of course part of this is also thanks to the huge investments Microsoft has made to the technology that keeps Hotmail running - more on that in a minute.



Spam


Then: Spam email is a massive deal and it has without doubt troubled just about everybody who's ever opened an email account.

According to Symantec, spam email makes up 90% of all email sent across the internet. Hotmail (like many other providers) has always suffered from the spam menace, one-third of users' Hotmail inboxes were spam in 2006 which is why SmartScreen technology was introduced 2007.

So that's what Hotmail is doing when it comes to receiving email, but what about the threat from spammers abusing its servers to send spam email?


Now: Hotmail fought back on that count too - outbound spam has been reduced by 75% and Microsoft has set up a Digital Crimes Unit to monitor future activity.

In addition, SmartScreen technology (the same wizardry now found in Internet Explorer) filters out an average 5.5 billion spam messages per day - whichever way you look at it, that's a helluva lot of junk.

To this end, spam email now accounts for less than 3% of the email in your inbox (although many happily report a total count of zero).



Hotmail now offers almost unlimited storage. Image Microsoft

Hotmail now offers almost unlimited storage.



Storage


Then: When we talk about storage people are obsessed with attachment limitations and the size of our inboxes. In 2004 storage within Hotmail was restricted to a miniscule 2MB.

Behind the scenes - Hotmail used to rely on a RAID setup (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) to store our accounts and emails. A RAID array contained multiple hard disks, but these disks also shared data. As a result if one disk suffered a failure, all of the disks would be affected and the service would fall over.



Now: Microsoft invests heavily in Hotmail, and will continue to do so. It is one of the only companies that can make this kind of investment; as a result we'll continue to see Hotmail augmented with new, powerful features.

Today we frolic in our virtually unlimited inbox and enjoy mailing attachments up to 100MB in size. That's a lot of space in anyone's book...

Hotmail is made up of over 140 petabytes (one petabyte is equal to a million gigabytes) of storage. This is growing by approximately one petabyte a week.

Hotmail has changed the way it stores our data. The new system is wholly more reliable and ensures that the copies of data reside on independent hard drives, controllers and machines. This setup is nicknamed "JBOD", which stands for "Just a Bunch Of Disks."

We can liken this new system to the engines in an aeroplane; if one fails, the other drives won't be affected as they function independently of each other.



Hotmail on your mobile


Then: For a long time Hotmail has lacked an official presence in the app stores/marketplaces the world over.


Now: These days it seems the world revolves around apps. Hotmail recently announced an official free app for Android smartphones - you can read more about it here.

Hotmail support is also built into Windows Phone, Apple have confirmed Hotmail support for the next version of their operating system (iOS 5) and you can pick up your Hotmail (along with other Windows Live services) on BlackBerry.



More: Hotmail shows off new features
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