Microsoft Won't Budge on Hotmail Redesign

Microsoft Corp. on Friday defended the redesign of its Windows Live Hotmail e-mail service, which has been blasted by some users, but said it would stick with the new interface.

Monday, it also urged users who were unable to access their mail to switch to the skeletal mobile version, or use a desktop client to reach their Hotmail account.

"We can't provide two fast, secure reliable experiences, so we have decided to just keep the new version," said Mike Schackwitz, lead program manager for Hotmail, in an entry to a Microsoft blog on Friday. "However, we will continue to improve the new version, based on many of your comments here, to make it work better for you."

Schackwitz was responding to criticism leveled by hundreds of Hotmail users who had taken the new interface to task in comments left on an earlier blog entry. "We've read all the comments, followed up with some of you, and changed the service as we went," he said. "Since our original announcement, we have read and analyzed several thousand comments, fixed several bugs, and released five updates to the code."

In late September, Microsoft began rolling out a revamped Hotmail that ditched what had been two options: a years-old "classic" interface and a newer "full" interface that was first offered in 2006. Instead, Microsoft merged elements of both in a new look. Schackwitz said that the gradual changeover was nearly completed, contradicting a company spokeswoman who last Friday said it would take "a few more months" to wrap up the transition. "By the end of this week, all Windows Live Hotmail users will be upgraded to the new Hotmail," he promised.

Many users haven't been happy about the change and by turns begged and demanded that Microsoft restore the "classic" choice.

"We understand that everyone has different tastes and computer configurations," Schackwitz said. "Although the majority of people in our tests preferred the new look and themes, some people didn't. So, while most of you have seen Hotmail improve, some of you have not, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you."

That apology didn't stop critics from blasting Microsoft's decision. "If you really think that this new format is great, you will be out on the street soon looking for a job," said an anonymous user in a comment added to Schackwitz's blog Monday morning. "Yes people have different tastes, but according to the comments I have read they are about 50:1 against the new format."

Others said they would drop Hotmail because Microsoft wouldn't give them the option of reverting to the older interface. "Wow! This really sucks. I mean REALLY REALLY REALLY sucks," said another unidentified user on Friday. "Since you will not allow the old format as an option, I guess I will need to migrate to another service."

Some continued to complain about specific problems tied to the new interface, including being unable to compose new messages or find their contacts. Today, a different Hotmail manager addressed those concerns by suggesting users try alternatives.

"We're working on fixing many of the issues that we're hearing matter most to you," said Ellie Powers, a Hotmail program manager, in a comment added to the same Schackwitz blog at 12:42 p.m. Eastern. "While we work on fixing Hotmail, here are [some] temporary solutions that we hope can provide some relief."

Powers then ticked off:

The mobile version of Hotmail. "It doesn't have all of the features of the Web version but we hope this may help some of you who are completely blocked at the current time," she said.

Windows Live Mail , a desktop client for Windows XP and Vista that lets users access their Hotmail accounts.

Outlook Connector , an add-on to Microsoft Outlook , the e-mail client bundled with Office, which also lets users access Hotmail.

"Again, we are working on fixing the problems you are reporting and know that the options mentioned here are not permanent solutions," Powers concluded.

The commentary on Schackwitz's blog has been brisk. By 1 p.m. Eastern, more than 250 comments had been added to the post during the day.

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