You are logging in to your Outlook account to check pending messages. As you enter your mail address, you suddenly remember those times when you would type the “@hotmail.com” extension. It has been nearly 5 years since the transition from Hotmail to Outlook, signifying how far Microsoft have developed themselves and their services.
Hotmail, Back Then
Hotmail was one of its kind. It was the first one providing Web-based email services with spam filter, enhanced anti-virus and storage of up to 250 MB, all that, for free. Okay, for free, you got a storage of 2 MB, but that was really a killer deal back then. That was back in 1996 when it’s founders Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith named it HoTMaiL.
The Login page of the first version of HoTMaiL
Fast forward one year, in the late December, Microsoft was still far from achieving Gates’s dream for a Web based email service for its customer. Marco De Mello was the Technology Executive of that time at Microsoft. He was charged with the acquisition of Hotmail and its integration into the Microsoft services. Backed, by the support of Bill Gates himself, he was able to jump past all barriers and establish a deal.
Journey With Microsoft Begins
December 29th, 1997. Microsoft confirmed its acquisition of Hotmail at a closing price of around 450 million dollars and renamed it as MSN Hotmail. Marked as the highest amount spent in purchasing an Internet start-up, of its time, Microsoft entered the world of vast opportunities – the world of open Internet. As Hotmail went on to get more developed, setting a benchmark for all the upcoming Web-based email services in the coming time, it also changed the course of Microsoft. That small step towards the future, is what paved Microsoft’s path to this day of Azure Services, Office 365 and obviously a more stable and secure Outlook.
An earlier version of the MSN Hotmail, after acquisition by Microsoft
Something that will amaze you is that, within a year from its establishment to its acquisition by Microsoft, it already had nearly 10 million users. Thus, one can easily understand the scale of business being conducted there. In an interview with De Mello, he said that, Hotmail already had a huge customer base running and the task of scaling its functionality within Microsoft and with its services was a whole new experience. He continued, that Hotmail was exactly what a start-up should be with respect to code and functionality, but when it came to its integration, they were taken aback by realising that they had to modify everything from the base code, while maintaining the users and its tasks.
It was nearly twenty-one years ago, Microsoft was at its peak and Gmail was not even there. At that time, employees, tasked with the migration and scaling of Hotmail within Microsoft, were already losing their sleep. A part of the company was working on one of the largest infrastructure (, of its time) based on Unix because Hotmail was originally build with FreeBSD Web servers in the front end and Sun Solaris OS as its backend and they had to completely migrate it to the then Windows NT servers that was just not a “perfect match” for it.
While all these continued, there silently started the growth of the idea of the modern Outlook, which was to be conceived, in large scale, many years later in around 2012. Hotmail continued to develop. Microsoft added its calendar service to Hotmail. They also had the responsibility to construct a more secure backend over the acquisition. We are already in 1999, and Hotmail was blooming with over 30 million of active users all around the world.
The transformation to Windows Server would not happen until the early 2000, with the development of Windows 2000 Server. However, the transformation was not complete, and they had only been able to configure only the front end for the Microsoft Services. During this whole time, Hotmail has been a sort of testing ground for all the challenges that Microsoft will face in the Web-centred service. It has provided immense knowledge and shown both spectrum of the good and the difficulty, equally. While, Microsoft was building IIS, or the networking or TCP stack, Hotmail became the base test for all of these. It took almost another three years, and by 2004, the whole of Hotmail’s backend was migrated successfully to the Windows Server.
The scaling of Hotmail to the level of services being provided by Microsoft was a real challenge. The real challenge was storage and one might remember, back in the early 2000 to 2003, storage was still marked by MB’s and those were costly. Setting up a data centre in Bothell, was both costly and computationally challenging to Microsoft. In the interview with De Mello, he remembers how, the whole Bothell went into complete blackout, the first time they powered up the data centre.
The Microsoft Data – Centre at Canyon Park, Bothell
These were not the only setbacks they faced in their years with Hotmail. Various security hacks, spams had the employees on their heels, trying to bring everything back to course. All these paved the way for the development of security for Outlook, in the years to come. The famous security flaw ever detected was the one in 1999, where one could log into any account using the password “eh”. Another flaw was detected back in 2001, where hackers claimed that anyone can login to their account and then pull out messages from any other account by crafting an URL based on the username and a valid message number of the second account.
Inspite, of all these hampers, Microsoft went on to develop Hotmail, in their own way. The later years included the integration of Microsoft Web Authentication scheme, MSN Messenger and MSN Space. Microsoft was already ahead of its time, integration this Web-based email with their Office back in 1998. This time marked a large transition for Microsoft as there were conflicting issues surrounding the scaling of Hotmail with Office products. To add to their headache, out came Gmail.
The Race Was On
The original Windows Live Hotmail login page
Thus, began a race among the mightiest. Jumping over to 2005, Microsoft decides to rebrand Hotmail as Windows Live Mail, and releasing a more updated version of their mail services. But, opposition from their beta-testers, made them rename it Windows Live Hotmail. The continuous competition from the other tech giants, forced Microsoft to continue developing Hotmail with more security, better UI and scaling of the databases. A faster mail service, supporting multiple browsers, with integrated services like Windows Live Messenger (, an updated MSN Messenger), and the Bing search engine, Hotmail was already a complete package and people’s first choice. Microsoft didn’t stop there. Larger storage capacity, synced personal contacts, calendar, tasks, even free Office Web Suite, and Windows Live Sky Drive (the present day One Drive) and the list continues. To quote Wikipedia, “Microsoft unveiled a ‘re-invented Hotmail’”.
Just wonder what one can achieve with all these facilities in their hand. Microsoft with Hotmail unveiled a new world of technology provided to all and equally. Times have been hard, with various security flaws and spams, but that didn’t hinder their growth. The redesigned the way mail services worked. De Mello, said in that the Microsoft that he started working with and the Microsoft we now know, are very different from each other. With respect to work culture, or research or other fields of their business, they have evolved themselves, and no doubt, their years with Hotmail , had played an undeniable part.
The Final Transition
The Outlook login page, at present.
By 2013, Outlook.com has already started gaining recognition and within two years, Microsoft has announced its decision to transition from Windows Live Hotmail to the Outlook.com. Thus, marking the birth of a new era for Outlook as Hotmail, played its part as the parent, faded with time. One just cannot deny the role Hotmail played in shaping the Microsoft of today. Its the vision of the future that drives a company to excellence. Its when we are able to think of the long-term benefit, we are able to establish ourselves. That’s what Bill Gates did back in 1998, with its acquisition of Hotmail and the rest followed on.
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