Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
No. Well, maybe someday. No, more like kind of. With characteristic confusion, Microsoft has introduced Outlook.com and positioned it to replace Hotmail. Sort of.
Last week, Microsoft announced "Outlook.com" - "Modern Email for the Next Billion Mailboxes," as they said.
With that announcement came rumblings of an end to Microsoft's popular Hotmail email service. It appears that Outlook.com effectively replaces Hotmail.com as Microsoft's free email offering.
And it probably will ... eventually.
But Microsoft's lack of clarity for its long term plans for Hotmail are leading many people to jump to a conclusion that I think is flat out wrong.
Let's clear that up first.
Regardless of what else Microsoft does with Hotmail or Outlook or whatever else they come up with in email, it's extremely likely that your hotmail.com email address will just keep working as it always has – it won't stop working as a result of these changes.
To quote Microsoft:
Webmail was first introduced with HoTMaiL in 1996. Back then, it was novel to have a personal email address you could keep for life ...
Even now, they refer to your Hotmail personal email address as something that you would keep for life. I'd be shocked if they ever backtracked on that.
If for some reason it ever did happen, Microsoft would lose its position in the free email market overnight. Given that these changes are specifically to attract more users (not alienate old ones), it just doesn't make sense that Microsoft would do anything other than keep your @hotmail.com email address working for as long as there's a Microsoft and there is email.
So let's be clear about one thing: you don't need to do a thing – your Hotmail email address will continue to work.
Whether or not you want to do something is another matter.
Call me a cynic, but it appears to me that Outlook.com is really nothing more that a new web-based user interface for Microsoft's free email services. Go to Outlook.com and login using your @hotmail.com email address and you'll now be accessing your Hotmail email using the new Outlook.com user interface.
As you can see, it's a new "face" on my Hotmail account.
That's it. That's all.
In fact, any of the email addresses associated with your "Microsoft account" can be used including @msn.com, @live.com, @hotmail.com, and several others.
And now @outlook.com.
So, why did Microsoft introduce Outlook.com?
Two things come immediately to mind:
The "land rush" as people try to claim email addresses on the new @outlook.com domain will increase Microsoft's total email subscriber numbers.
Outlook.com's new user interface will indeed be more powerful and integrate more closely with social media.
Microsoft's own announcement indicates that the later is most significant:
... email is becoming less and less useful as ... people increasingly keep up their personal connections in social networks instead of their email address books.
Outlook.com definitely looks like some of the more Windows 8 – like (formerly known as "Metro-style") applications.
It's very clear that Outlook.com is Microsoft's next step in the ongoing competition for online email, social media, and more. In many ways, Hotmail has been lagging what's available from some of Microsoft's competitors and has indeed been losing ground.
Put another way, Microsoft is "keeping up with the Jones'" – or the Googles, or the Facebooks.
My take is that it's Microsoft's foundation for the future of integrated email and other online services.
Speaking of the future...
Until we hear more from Microsoft, this is speculation, but it's speculation from having watched Microsoft and Hotmail for many years.
I predict that the Hotmail user interface that we know and love (or at least tolerate) will someday go away.
Not immediately – probably not for many many months if not a couple of years.
But eventually, I'm guessing that when you login to your Hotmail account, you'll someday see the Outlook.com user interface whether you previously "upgraded" or not.
You can do that today by going to Outlook.com – in fact, once you login at Outlook.com, logging in later via Hotmail.com will give you the Outlook.com user interface. (Instructions to switch back are below.)
Someday, I expect that to simply happen for everyone – with no going back.
This isn't new. Microsoft has changed the Hotmail user interface before, and eventually all users were "upgraded."
Of course not. Not for this, anyway. Nothing has been forced on you.
Your @hotmail.com email address will keep working, very likely forever. (The same is true of @live.com, or @msn.com, or ... whatever other Microsoft email address you might have.)
You're not being forced to change your user interface. Ignore Outlook.com and nothing will change. Not yet anyway.
Let's face it – my prediction of the demise of the Hotmail user interface is pure speculation. I think it likely, but I could be wrong. Microsoft could surprise me and keep the old Hotmail UI available for a long, long time, alongside Outlook.com.
If, however, they don't, then the decision on whether or not to leave is up to you and how much you like – or dislike – the Outlook.com look and its features and functionality.
There's actually no technical relationship between Outlook.com, Microsoft Outlook (included in Microsoft Office) and Outlook Express (which is no longer available or supported and should go away.) You don't need one to access the other or vice versa – they're unrelated and independent.
The word "Outlook" here is nothing more than a brand name for Microsoft's email programs and interfaces.
Now, it makes sense that Microsoft might make Outlook.com look like Microsoft Outlook in many ways, and perhaps increasingly so over time, but that's all it would be: a similar appearance.
I also expect that Microsoft Outlook (the desktop email program) will integrate very well with Outlook.com (the email service), and in fact, Microsoft is already touting that as one of its features.
No, your @hotmail.com email address will keep on working as well as it ever has ... "for life" in Microsoft's own words.
Yes, someday I fully expect logging in via hotmail.com or live.com or outlook.com to all result in the new Outlook.com user interface, and in that sense, "Hotmail" will no longer be with us as anything other than an email address. I could even see Microsoft perhaps closing the @hotmail.com domain to new email addresses.
Sort Of: I also expect Microsoft will be adding new features to Outlook.com only, and pestering us with the opportunity to upgrade often.
As I said, most of that is simply speculation based on experience – Microsoft has been typically unclear on exactly what to expect.
Simply going to Outlook.com and logging in with any Microsoft account will have the side effect of "upgrading" your account to the new Outlook.com user interface.
For now, going back is really easy.
Click on the gear icon in the upper right, and you'll get a menu that includes "Switch back to Hotmail":