We decided to take a closer look at the Web-based e-mail service that is currently setting the standard in the booming free e-mail niche: Hotmail.
It's been nearly six months since Microsoft bought Hotmail and its millions of user accounts, but not much has changed at http://www.hotmail.com. Like an "Under new management" sign in the window of a popular delicatessen, a "from Microsoft" tagline has been slapped below the Hotmail banner. The shape of things to come is more obvious in the drop-down menu on Hotmail's opening screen, directing browsers to Microsoft's numerous other media properties such as Slate, CarPoint and its ever-present Microsoft Network.
A bit deeper into the Hotmail site, on the frequently asked questions page, we found some advice that we're sure won't last much longer. Hotmail's FAQ still suggests "a browser such as Netscape Navigator 2.0 or higher for best viewing results". Rats feed where they can, and we can always find a juicy spot on a giant.
Beyond a reworking of Hotmail's Web-face to the world, we expect that Microsoft will soon do a little tinkering with the technology it bought. Several Microsoft-owned sites, such as CarPoint and Internet Gaming Zone, have been enhanced for Internet Explorer and Windows, and Hotmail is sure to follow suit.
Hotmail's platform-agnostic service -- arguably one of the reasons it became so popular in the first place -- will quickly give way to tiered services for Windows and non-Windows users. Look for nifty new features, such as chat and audio/video messaging, to only appear first in ActiveX, with Java versions "coming soon".
Not that we're fatalists. It's just the way the game is played.