Microsoft will finally bring its completely revamped version of its popular online e-mail service out of beta and into full release on Monday.
According to sources familiar with the company's plans, Microsoft has been quietly rolling out version 1 of Windows Live Hotmail in smaller international markets, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, to test the new system. Monday's rollout will give U.S. users and the other estimated 250 million Hotmail subscribers around the world access to the application, sources said.
Microsoft declined to comment on Thursday.
It's been a long road for the revamped online hosted e-mail application. Microsoft has been testing its new e-mail service, rewritten from scratch, since August 2005. The company rebranded it to Windows Live under Microsoft's new hosted services plan in November 2005. That strategy, introduced by Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, is aimed at making Microsoft's existing and new hosted online services more attractive to users and advertisers so the company can catch up to competitors like Google.
Microsoft named the service Windows Live Hotmail in February in order to retain the name by which users know it. Richard Sim, a Microsoft senior product manager, outlined the reasons for keeping the Hotmail brand on the Windows Live Hotmail team's Live Spaces blog when the name change was announced.
"Many users were extremely loyal to the Hotmail brand and perceived the [Windows Live Mail] beta as an upgrade to Hotmail," he wrote at the time. "In fact, our most loyal users have been very happy with Hotmail for years, and while they loved the improvements in the beta, some were a bit confused by (the) name change."
The LiveSide blog, which tracks Windows Live services, also has been charting the progress of Windows Live Hotmail on a page dedicated to the new service.
Microsoft focused on improvements in speed and efficiency of the mail service and also made it more powerful so it could potentially be used by businesses; it's the mail service in Microsoft's small-business hosted service, Office Live.
Windows Live Hotmail offers users 2GB of mail storage and also allows them to import contacts from and also export them to other Web-based e-mail services, such as Google's Gmail and Yahoo's Yahoo Mail. There also is a premium Windows Live Hotmail Plus Service for $19.99 a year that will offer 4GB of inbox storage and other expanded options.
Microsoft also revamped the mail service's user interface and made sorting through and searching for contacts and messages more efficient and faster, according to the company.
More information about Windows Live Hotmail and its latest beta version can be found on the Windows Live services homepage.