Outlook.com Calendar Finally Gets a Coat of Metro

If you have been using Hotmail/Outlook.com for email, you would have noticed that the email, contacts and SkyDrive interfaces are all uniform, designed along the Metro principles of letting the content stand out and moving all unnecessary chrome and controls out of the way. One service which was still bearing the old Hotmail/Live look was the Calendar.

The Calendar was left in the old format for some strange reason even after Outlook.com left preview and became “production” recently. One of the early comments made by Microsoft about Calendar was that they observed that most people use the Calendar on mobile devices or via desktop applications and not the website, and hence they prioritized the Calendar update lower.

However, for those who got used to using the Outlook.com web interface (partly because it is so beautiful and functional), started feeling the eyesore that was Calendar. Until April 2.

Over on Office Blogs, David Dennis announced the new Outlook.com Calendar was finally available at http://calendar.live.com. Some of the salient features of the new Calendar are:

  • The fresh/modern/Metro design. Finally in line with the email, contacts and storage services.
  • Easier navigation and usage. The web app works much like a desktop application with drag across time periods to create an event, incorporating tasks within the same page as calendar, clicking to add/edit events, etc.
  • If you connect your Microsoft account to Skype, LinkedIn and Facebook, you will automatically see birthdays (and other events) from those services in your calendar.
  • Granular (but easy to use) privacy controls for sharing calendars and parts of calendars.
  • Shared calendars with change notifications, enabling scenarios where parents share calendars and get notified when one or the other changes/adds events.
Outlook.com Metro Calendar
Outlook.com Metro Calendar

Overall, this is a much-needed and highly delayed change which finally makes the “Windows Services” consisting of Outlook.com email, Outlook.com Calendar, People and SkyDrive appear like a suite of services made by the same company.

There are still some features available in other services like Google Calendar that are missing from Outlook.com Calendar, but here’s hoping that with this “big” update out of the way, the Calendar team will get more resources to focus on adding functionality to the Calendar, and enhancing how it interacts with the rest of the products in the Microsoft portfolio like Bing.

Do you use Hotmail Calendar? Have you been upgraded to the new version? What are your thoughts?


Image courtesy Office Blogs.

Tips and Tricks: Clear Up the Clutter With Outlook.com

Microsoft has been touting its new take on an old service, Outlook.com. Basically, they are offering a preview of what will eventually take the place of Hotmail.com. Most of the changes so far are cosmetic however, there are a few features worth noting. Today, I want to show you how you can keep your inbox clutter free using some of Outlook.com’s cleanup features.

If you’re like me, you like to subscribe to blogs and newsletters in the hopes that *someday* you’ll get to read all of them. For me, that someday usually never comes. I usually end up with a cluttered mess in my inbox. Outlook.com has a really simple way to help you manage the newsletters. In the screenshot below, you can see where I’ve highlighted a couple of options that Outlook.com adds to your messages. Outlook.com can help you unsubscribe to unwanted mailings or it can schedule an automatic cleanup.

Cleanup Options

If you click on “unsubscribe” you will get something similar to the screenshot pictured below.

Block Message

In this particular instance, Outlook.com doesn’t recognize any unsubscribe information from the sender so it offers to block everything from this sender. Outlook.com will also delete everything from this sender to help you clean up space in your inbox. In my case, this seemed a little extreme so I clicked out of this box and chose the other option which is “schedule automatic cleanup”.

Pictured below, you can see the “Schedule Cleanup” window. You have a few options here. In my case, I really only needed to see the most recent message so I chose to “only keep the latest message from this sender”. Notice though, that you can choose to delete messages that are a certain amount of days old or you can move messages that are a certain amount of days old into a folder. Be careful with the last box on the bottom. It says “Do this for everything in the Newsletters category”. This means any message that Outlook.com recognizes as a newsletter, it will perform this same action from here on out. Use this with caution.

Schedule Automatic Cleanup

I hope this tip will help you keep your inbox clutter free and help you focus on the messages that are the most important to you. Keep coming back as we will certainly be doing more tips as Outlook.com rolls out new features.

How to Get your Outlook.com Email Address

Microsoft has just announced Outlook email service which will be replacing Hotmail soon. While you can keep using your current email id, you also have an option of creating a new [email protected] email alias that you can use alongside your current email address. This a tutorial on how to do that (if you have a generic name, you better hurry up before someone else gets it).

To upgrade to Outlook from Hotmail, login to Hotmail. Click  Options and select Upgrade to Outlook.com .

You will be automatically upgraded to the new Outlook. You will find a welcome mail with a link to get a new alias as shown below.

Alternately, you can also create an alias from the settings page.

Once you are in the new Outlook, click on the gear icon on the top right corner of Outlook and select More Setting option. You will be taken to the Settings page.

Now click Create your Outlook alias from under Managing your account section.

After entering your desired alias, click Create alias button and you are done.

You can now send and receive emails using your new outlook mail id.

Microsoft To Bring Metro UI On Hotmail or “Newmail”

Not that anyone cares or uses Hotmail, but it seems like Microsoft is bringing the Metro-style UI to its web based email service — Hotmail. Liveside has got hold of screenshots of the new Hotmail or “Newmail”, as Microsoft is likely to call it, with Metro UI.

Take a look:




For more screenshots head over to Liveside.

What’s interesting is that Microsoft is unifying the Metro-style UI across all of its services. This is one thing I absolutely dislike about Google. Just take a look at their Gtalk on web across various platforms. The UI differs from within Gmail and Google Plus. The Metro UI also indicates that Microsoft is preparing its services for touch friendly tablets that might soon enter the market with Windows 8 release.

Battling Graymail With Hotmail (And My Quest To Tame My Inbox)

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post that I was approached to write by Microsoft and Technorati Media, and I am receiving compensation for authoring it.

While Hotmail generally has a pretty bad reputation amongst the tech-savvy crowd, I’ve happily used a Hotmail account over the past three years without issue (on top of several Gmail accounts and my iCloud account.) And, throughout my time with email, I’ve never been one to bother with any organization whatsoever. I never took advantage of the labels, features, and stars that tickles the fancy of Gmail users, nor did I use some of the new features and improvements that have been added to Hotmail over the last year of two, some of which I’ve blogged about in the past.

As part of penning this sponsored post, I had to immerse myself in learning about these features in Hotmail, particularly those which help people control what they refer to as graymail. Basically, graymail occupies that “gray” area that lies between spam and legitimate emails; it’s stuff like newsletters, daily deals, social updates, notifications, and other things that you’ve signed up for, but lost control of over the past few years. As part of Hotmail’s campaign against graymail, they estimate that the average inbox in 2012 will receive around 14,600 emails, and, thanks to graymail, this figure will rise to 15,330 by 2015.

My own email inbox can also attest to this; with around 6,500 unread emails at the time of writing, and likely far more read emails, I’ve noticed that the bulk of it is what would be considered graymail. While spam rarely makes its way into my inbox, I’ve been the cause of its demise with the barrage of emails from Groupon, Gilt Group, Fab.com, Twitter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ZDNet, and other miscellaneous newsletters that I don’t remember signing up for. With that in mind, I’m going to walk you through the numerous features that Hotmail put in place to solve this problem while I regain control of my own Hotmail inbox in the process.

Before I begin, here’s a list of the features that I will be using for this mission:

  • Sweep: Allows you to delete or move all the emails you’ve received from a specific sender – past, present and future.
  • Categories: Hotmail automatically categorizes newsletters, social updates and photos to within 95% accuracy. You can also create your own custom categories to tag your mail with.
  • Alias: Allows you to create full, disposable email addresses to use for signing up to sites and notifications. Email sent to these addresses will arrive in your inbox, but senders will never know your actual email address.
  • Schedule Cleanup: Just like Sweep, but with the added factor of automatically running rules like based on time intervals. So you can keep only the latest mail from a sender, or have Hotmail delete or move files that are older than 3, 10, 30, or 60 days.

First, I began automating content that I may like to scan over (such as certain daily deals).

Next, I went about trimming my entire inbox using the Sweep > Delete All function. Pretty much every newsletter subscription I ever had was exiled, and configured to never set foot in my inbox again. Interestingly enough, the automatic “newsletter” Hotmail category only discovered and appropriately categorized some of the newsletters I had, so I had to randomly go looking about for them. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but it would be nice if it could have gathered a more significant portion so I could axe them all more easily.

I took a break from exiling newsletters to get a grip on my social updates. As I did with the content I wanted, I automated what happens to them through Schedule Cleanup.

There isn’t much to write about here because the process was quite quick. Above is a photo of the end result of 20 minutes of work; I think there are a few stray emails that may have survived the pruning, so I’ll go ahead and seek them out now. But I’m quite happy! As you can tell by the trash can, quite a lot of emails were deleted. Now, one annoyance is when newsletter providers use different email addresses and alternate between them, but there isn’t really much Hotmail can do about that.

I’m just glad that I won’t be receiving even more emails from the addresses that I did manage to exile today. Also happy that the content which is either important to somewhat important will be purged when it is no longer relevant.

If you want to take back your Hotmail inbox, you can as well (and easily, too.) Click here to learn about smart tools from Hotmail to manage your inbox automatically and conquer graymail.

[Update] Hotmail Suffering Outage

Since yesterday, the Me tile on my Windows Phone was not updating messages from Twitter so today I decided to delete the account and re-add it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I keep getting an error.

While I wait for the Twitter integration to come back to normal, it seems that Hotmail is facing problems. I haven’t been able to access hotmail.com for more than 40 minutes. Turning to Twitter, there are several users reporting problems with Hotmail. The funny thing is, I can receive emails sent to my Hotmail address on my Windows Phone.

Here’s what I am seeing when I visit hotmail.com:

PS: SkyDrive seems to be working.

Update: Hotmail seems to be coming back to life.


Microsoft Raking in 100k Users a Day from Easier Hotmail Setup in Windows Phone 7…err in iOS 5

You would think that Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 would be bringing in a massive amount of Hotmail users on a daily basis, but it turns out…wait for it…wait for it….iOS! In iOS 5, Apple added an easier Hotmail setup in the Mail app, which has led to a massive increase in activations for Microsoft. Shockingly, Microsoft is seeing almost 100,000  new iOS 5 devices logging in to Hotmail every day.

Microsoft’s Chris Jones published an official blog post on Wednesday that over  2 million iOS 5 users have connected their Hotmail accounts to iPhones or iPads, and that number isn’t slowly down. In fact, the number continues to increase rapidly, at the rate of nearly 100,000 iOS 5 devices a day! Dang.

iOS 5 Hotmail 100k

What’s ironic is that the majority of these devices are iPhones. How about that Windows Phone 7? 40 percent are using the iPhone 4 to log in, while 24 percent are using the iPhone 4S.  Another 12 percent of Hotmail connections to iOS 5 come from the iPhone 3GS.

Hotmail users have been able to set up Hotmail before iOS 5, but it was a little bit complicated because the process required a Microsoft Exchange setup.

Isn’t it funny on how Microsoft won’t release the number of Windows Phone 7 devices sold, but will boast about how well their own service is doing on another platform?

So You Want to Kick the Google Habit? [Editorial]



Google Everywhere

It is hard to go online today without touching one or more Google products or services. If it is not search, it may be email, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, Docs, or Calendar. Google has truly blanketed us with their web-based app offerings. Heck, even the Google Doodle is a conversation topic!

In this editorial, I shall discuss how you can kick the Google habit, what I am using now as alternatives and why you probably won’t be able to replace certain Google products today. Ready to move away from Google? First, some background.

Why un-Google?

Some of the reasons I personally decided to look for alternatives:

  • Google became a part of virtually everything I did online. I used GMail, Google Reader, Google Finance, Blogger, Picasa, Picasa Web, Google Docs, Google Search, Google Calendar and Google Maps. I felt uncomfortable putting such a large portion of my online life in Google’s hands.
  • Google morphed from the cool little startup building fun stuff for consumers, to a dominant public company whose revenues essentially came from just one product. That’s the key most (96%) of its revenues (and profits) came from search advertising. In other words, it needed other ways to make money. The most obvious way to do so would be to extend the arm of advertising, their main revenue-generating product, into other products. I realized I was the merchandise.
  • Google seemed to get Apple and Facebook envy. Apple was growing rapidly across all their product lines and at very high profit margins, and Facebook was taking eyeballs and key talent away from Google. This led to some bad attempts to mock Apple and Facebook publicly, which of course delighted the Google developer and enthusiast community but came off as being negative to me. If you make a great product, you don’t need a negative campaign.
  • Aside from philosophy, some of the competing products started becoming better, and Google’s products started getting worse (more on that within my descriptions) prompting me to start Project Un-Google which was an effort to use fewer and fewer Google products, hopefully reaching a point where I did not depend on any Google product at all.

Whether it is for philosophy, or hedging your web app bets, it is good to know there is life outside Google when it comes to products and services online and offline. There is usually a strong resistance to change, especially if you have a long history with a product. There is a high cost for transferring the old stuff, and learning your way around a new product/service. However, these challenges are not insurmountable, and I hope you take a look at some or all of the products I list here as an alternative to Google. If you have ideas of other products I may not have mentioned, please let me know!

Popular Google products

Here are some of the Google products/services I will be comparing to competition:

  • Search
  • Picasa
  • GMail
  • Calendar
  • Documents
  • Groups
  • Finance
  • Blogger
  • Chrome
  • Maps/Directions
  • Talk/Chat/Voice

I realize Google has many more products, appsand services, but I did not look at products like Book Search which are very niche. My attempt here is to look at the commonly used products and services only.

A Definitive Look into 15 Years of Hotmail

Hotmail, world’s largest free email service with 360 million unique users per month, completed 15 years on July 4, 2011. It was one of the first web-based email services on the internet.

Hotmail was founded by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, two colleagues at FirePower Systems Inc. in Silicon Valley. The service was commercially launched on July 4,  1996 as HoTMaiL; the selective capitalization referring to HTML. The launch date has a bit of trivia attached to it. July 4 is American Independence Day, and the service symbolized freedom from ISP-based email and the ability to access a user’s inbox from anywhere in the world.

Interestingly, the Hotmail development and operations groups are based in Mountain View, California and not in Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond. When Hotmail Corporation was an independent company, its headquarters were in Sunnyvale, California.


History of Hotmail Logo

An Estonian investor acquired Hotmail from the original creators and continued developing it. In 1997, Microsoft acquired Hotmail for an estimated $400 million to make free email a feature of Microsoft Network (MSN). The Hotmail acquisition by Microsoft turned up the heat on the then online giant America Online, MSN’s main rival.

Shortly after the acquisition, Microsoft rebranded it to MSN Hotmail. Also, Hotmail was integrated with another Microsoft acquisition, Jump, a web-based calendar service.

In 2005, a refresh of Hotmail was announced as Windows Live Hotmail (codename Kahuna), and was rolled out in 2007. Windows Live is a suite of online services and products from Microsoft.


Original Hotmail Homepage

Hotmail quickly gained in popularity as it was localized for different markets around the globe and became the world’s largest webmail service. In its current version, Windows Live Hotmail is available in 36 different languages. According to last year’s comScore ranking, Windows Live Hotmail is the world’s largest web-based email service with nearly 364 million users. Second and third are Yahoo! Mail at 280 million users and Gmail at 191 million users.


Hotmail Homepage in 2007

Hotmail initially ran under Solaris for mail services and Apache on FreeBSD for web services. Although a project was started to migrate Hotmail to Windows 2000,   Microsoft admitted that DNS functions of the Hotmail system were still reliant on FreeBSD. After a while, MSN Hotmail was tied to Microsoft Passport, Microsoft’s web authentication scheme. Microsoft Passport has now been rebranded to Windows Live ID.

Starting in 2004, the Hotmail engineering team completely rewrote the backend system to move it to a system that uses  Windows Server and Windows SQL Server. In 2005, the Hotmail engineering team undertook a similar rewrite of the frontend system, and rebuilt both Hotmail and Calendar from the ground up using C# and ASP.net and leveraged Windows Server and the latest version of IIS.  The old software was written in C++ and Perl.

Although, Hotmail was ahead of its time in offering and progressively adding email features like anti-virus scanning for attachments, integrated calendar service, built-in reading pane, email rules, and spell checking, there was a period of technological stagnation in the first half of 2000s. Leading webmail services like Hotmail and Yahoo worked on gaining more users rather than innovating in the space in this period.

The advent of Gmail in 2004 as a revolutionary webmail service spurred a wave of innovation amongst webmail services. Hotmail too made dramatic changes featuring greater storage, speed, and interface flexibility. Hotmail initially offered 2MB free storage while today it offers ever-growing storage.  The service has since  been growing at an astounding pace both in innovation and engineering as well as in user base.

Hotmail is on a Roll with Updates

While we gasped at the awesomeness of the relaunched SkyDrive earlier this week, most of us have failed to notice the slew of updates to another product by the same business division at Microsoft. Hotmail has been releasing updates all through the month of June, some of which haven’t been even announced officially.Hotmail

While some of these have been feature additions, others have been nice user interface tweaks. The evident speed improvements are a result of some clever HTML5 programming. The team has clearly been inspired by Outlook and brings many features from Outlook/Outlook Web Access to Hotmail.


Since a couple of weeks, the header on the Hotmail has changed to a header similar to SkyDrive. It has a consolidated menu for SkyDrive instead of the Photos and Office links.

Based on the user feedback, the Hotmail team has adjusted the Back button so that it now works more effectively, and attachments now get saved to email drafts. Also, users can recover some lost email through a new link in the Deleted folder.

Kip from liveside.net has also spotted a quick view Calendar in the left navigation pane. I haven’t had this update on my account as yet, and neither did most people that I checked with at the time of writing this post.

Right-click Menus

Hotmail has added more right-click action options this week inspired by Outlook. When you right-click a message in your inbox, a new menu appears allowing you to Reply, Reply all, or Forward the message. Hotmail already supports right-click actions like Mark as unread, Delete, Junk, Move, and View message source. This is a definite speed-booster for the daily email tasks.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Hotmail supports several keyboard shortcuts familiar to the Outlook users, such as Ctrl+N for a new message, and Ctrl+Enter to send a message. It also provides keyboard shortcuts that users who have switched from Gmail and Yahoo! Mail are already used to with the previous email service.


While you could always customize individual email messages, now Hotmail allows you to set a set a default font and personal signature for all your email messages.

Message Pre-loading

Last week, an option appeared in Hotmail to allow message pre-loading that pre-loads messages and folders in order to make them load faster and speed up reading. The feature needs to be activated from the Hotmail options.


While most of these additions increase speed and productivity while using Hotmail, a few features on my wish-list still remain to be struck off.

  • If you’ve pinned Hotmail to your Windows 7 Taskbar, you receive a notification of a new mail. Unfortunately, there is no Messenger notification. While Facebook and Gmail change the browser title to notify a user of an incoming chat message, Hotmail has no such feature.
  • While Outlook saves conversation history from communicator, Hotmail doesn’t do that for Messenger. This is one Outlook feature I would really want to see come to this side.
  • More right-click options? Yay! However, I still find it natural to expect right-click action options on folders in the left navigation pane.
  • This is not a personal wish, but asking for no advertisements on Hotmail finds resonance across the web. The latest refresh of SkyDrive does away with ads, so there is hope.