Killing off Hotmail may well go down as one of the most brilliant strategies of this decade
The Hotmail story was a true fairytale, a feel-good fable that made most of us Indians proud, turned Sabeer Bhatia into a superhero and gave birth to the fact that we all started to dream of becoming ‘online’ billionaires. And now that fairytale is dead! Well, not dead – as in dead and buried; more like the kind where the doctors have announced that it’s still alive, but only due to the life support equipment it’s strapped on. And that they’ll pull the plug soon.Free Mail
Hotmail was the first ‘big thing’ for people to discover what being online could do. It brought free Web-based email to the masses, it levelled the field between individual users and people working in a large company, and it empowered users to exchange much more than just text and words. Having a Hotmail account with your full name was a serious vanity point scorer and even the silly and obscure named ones (I once had a Hotmail account called firstname.lastname@example.org!) were still quite an asset to have. Hotmail grew from a few thousand to 330 million users in a very short span of time. Hotmail was hot! Hot goes cold
Microsoft has now announced that it will discontinue Hotmail. Kaputed, annihilated, slaughtered and assassinated. In its place is the spanking new state-of-the-art mailbox for the next billion users. It’s called outlook.com and this is one more salvo from a very busy Microsoft this year. It’s finally found some success in mobiles, it’s gearing up for its biggest launch ever with Windows 8, it’s upgraded its big cash cow – the Office suite – and it has announced its own Tablet range with the Surface. And yet within all this frenzy of new stuff – the death of Hotmail and the rise of Outlook may well be its biggest move. A super risky manoeuvre with a huge payoff at the end.
The Hot Story
Why Hotmail is being killed off despite having the largest number of users (Hotmail has about 330 million versus about 300 each for Gmail and Yahoo!) is an intriguing tale of lost opportunities, cut-throat competition and perplexing Microsoft decisions. Faced with Gmail coming in and rewriting the rules, Microsoft responded with monotonously regular patchy add-ons that eventually made Hotmail a very Hot ‘mess’. It still deactivated your account if you didn’t use it for a while, it played catch-up with the amount of space that it gave you, innovations and new services were few and far between and it changed the interface and layout at the drop of a hat. Just revamping Hotmail once more would have been a disaster. The all-new Outlook is like a breath of fresh air as it gets most things right, right from the beginning.
The ‘big’ things in Outlook are all quite smart and efficient. From a very clean Metro interface (something that will now be common in Windows across all devices); scheduled auto clean-up that still retains the last mail from a sender; intelligent auto sorting of mails, auto linking with Facebook, Twitter and other social media (for most things, you won’t even have to leave your Outlook page); instant chat integrates it all – including Facebook and other accounts into one space. Skype is part and parcel of it and you don’t need to download a separate app for it. It has instant commands where you hover your mouse and options drop down; great little animations and special effects; deep integration with SkyDrive (instead of attaching large files, just attach a link), import of mails and contacts from all your other mail accounts, a photo-sharing feature that works brilliantly and the big one – you can now attach files as large as 300MB (that is huge!)
Risky as Hell
To kill off a brand that is the most successful in its category takes guts. This is a gamble that can backfire massively. There is no guarantee that the 330 million Hotmail users will all move to Outlook as some may veer off to the competition. Yet, if they hadn’t killed off Hotmail completely, Outlook may not have got the mass exodus it needs to make it a huge success. Killing off Hotmail may well go down as one of the most brilliant strategies of this decade. Should you be giving Outlook.com a shot? Absolutely. You’d better hurry though, lest you end up with one more obscure email ID. I sure don’t want a
From HT Brunch, August 12
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