Microsoft aims to take on Gmail with major Hotmail revamp

Microsoft’s announced a new version of Hotmail, adding information management features that are in many cases similar to those found in Gmail.

“You now have a convenient and concise summary of the most important mail in your inbox – new email from friends and contacts, social network updates, shipping notices, appointments, and birthday reminders – along with a conveniently consolidated, privacy-protected stream of photos and updates from your closest friends on Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, and over 70 other websites,” says Dick Craddock, group program manager for what’s now called Windows Live Hotmail.

The new version allows documents sent via Hotmail to be viewed and edited in web versions of Office via cloud-based storage. “You can attach an Office document to an email and have it stored on SkyDrive,” says Craddock.

“Hotmail then sends the document via SkyDrive, so that you – and the people you send it to – can access it from anywhere regardless of whether they use a PC or Mac, have Office installed, use Hotmail or don’t, or have smaller attachment limitations than the 10GB per message allowed by Hotmail.”

A new Sweep feature allows users to move and delete messages en masse, and automatically do the same to future messages from the same sender.

Like Gmail, Hotmail will now allow users to filter messages by sender – Facebook, for example – or by conversation. There are improved spam filters and other security features.

And an Active View feature means that photos sent as email attachments or linked to on Flickr automatically appear as slideshows. It also puts preview pictures at the top of a browser window, rather than sending users to a separate page.

Most of the new features will be available this summer, although the improved integration with Office won’t appear until the fall. Many features require Silverlight.

Microsoft says Hotmail is the world’s most popular email service, with more than 360 million users. But according to Comscore, it’s only number two in the US, after Yahoo Mail.

There’s more information here.