Hotmail introduced advanced features for fighting the war on graymail this past fall, and since then, customers have conquered graymail over 100 million times using features like Sweep and Schedule Cleanup. In this post, I’ll talk about how Hotmail customers are taking control of their email with Sweep, Schedule Cleanup, and Hotmail’s newsletter filter, and we’ll show you how these tools can help you conquer graymail in your own inbox in just 60 seconds.
Graymail—messages like newsletters, daily deals, and notifications—is filling up inboxes all over the world. Newsletters alone typically make up more than 50% of a person’s email. Managing all that graymail takes time and can be a hassle. Hotmail continues to add innovative features to let you take control of graymail and take back your inbox.
Hotmail’s newsletter category automatically identifies most newsletters and lets you see them all in one place with a single click. One-click unsubscribe lets you get rid of unwanted newsletters instantly.
Schedule Cleanup is a powerful new feature that lets you automatically manage bulk mail. With Schedule Cleanup, you can:
Schedule Cleanup not only takes care of the mail you’ve already received, but keeps working for you as you receive new mail. It’s one of the most efficient ways to keep your inbox tidy.
Sweep lets you move or delete unwanted graymail quickly and easily, and can even automatically set up rules for managing new mail as it arrives.
Categories let you organize your mail the way you want. Hotmail automatically categorizes things like newsletters, social updates, photos, Office docs and shipping updates. Now, you can create your own categories and have each one show up as a QuickView.
And of course, these features work well together. Categories can be used together with Schedule Cleanup, making those tools even more powerful. For instance, you can use Schedule Cleanup to delete all newsletters as they get old, just by using Schedule Cleanup on the newsletter category.
It’s been just two months since we finished the deployment of our most recent major release, and we’ve already seen millions of people use these tools to quickly take control of their own inbox. Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.
Since November, 2011, customers have performed over 100 million actions to conquer graymail: Sweeping, categorizing, and using Schedule Cleanup.
And what’s more, we’re seeing an increasing use of these powerful tools. Each month, more people use Sweep and Schedule Cleanup to get rid of their graymail. In fact, we’ve seen a double-digit increase in the use of these features month-over-month since our October release.
The best news is that these tools are quick and easy to use. In this video, we’ll show you how you can take back your own inbox in just 60 seconds.
More and more people are using Hotmail’s innovative tools to fight their own war on graymail, and we hope you’ll give these tools a try yourself. We’d love to hear about your own experience using Sweep, Schedule Cleanup, categories, and the rest.
As always, thanks for using Hotmail.
Group Program Manager, Hotmail
Hotmail has come a long way in spam protection and is now among the best in the industry in keeping spam out of your inbox. Our own internal metrics, customer feedback, and even a recent third-party report confirms that no mail service offers better protection than Hotmail. You can read all about it in the Gadgetwise column in the New York Times.
Our years of improvements in Hotmail’s SmartScreen technology have led to record low rates of spam in the inbox (SITI), and our customers can tell the difference. We’ve driven SITI down below 3% for a typical Hotmail inbox, and, more importantly, we’ve kept the number there.
Our metrics tell us that we’re doing a good job, and we’re pleased with the progress. But let’s look beyond metrics for a moment. Keeping your inbox clean is about three things, and Hotmail does a great job on all three:
Metrics are great, but what we really care about is hearing from our customers about their own experiences with Hotmail. We have several ways to get customer feedback:
Customer support: Complaints related to spam, including phishing, junk and malware, have dropped by over 40% over the past year.
Direct customer feedback: Hotmail includes a feedback link, which we call “voice of the customer” or VOTC. Our voice of the customer data gives us incredibly valuable feedback and verbatim comments from you on what’s going well and what isn’t. We take this feedback seriously: members of the development team read this feedback every day and spend time categorizing it, finding patterns and trends, and using it to make product improvments. The total number of complaints related to spam has shrunk by over 50% over the past two years. This would be a great result by itself, but it’s even more remarkable when you consider that our overall feedback volume has been steadily increasing.
We’ve seen really spectacular progress in certain areas around spam management. For example, complaints about managing safe and blocked sender lists has dropped to near zero. Questions like “why did my mail end up where it did?” have similarly dropped to near zero. Complaints around “repeat spam” have been cut in half – from 35% down to 17% of complaint volume.
While we’re happy with the results, we know that there are still areas to improve. For example, we still see feedback on phishing attacks.
In-product telemetry: We know that customers who use Hotmail regularly (for example, as their primary email) see lower than average SITI due to our investments in personalization of our spam filtering. Put simply: the more you use Hotmail, the better the experience gets.
As much as we invest in our own telemetry and instrumentation to understand the spam problem, sometimes it’s nice to get an outside perspective. Cascade Insights gave us just that recently with a comprehensive study of the major email services to see how each performed in the face of incoming spam. We were excited to see an analyst go deep on SPAM and compare the different webmail providers, so we’ve paid Cascade for rights to access and distribute their private report and methodology.
The short story? No one did better than Hotmail. In fact, Hotmail and Gmail were dead even when dealing with spam, and both did much better than other email providers.
The methodology defined by Cascade Insights was straightforward and consistent across email providers. It’s important to note that this was just one study which used a particular methodology, and that your own results may vary. But we’re confident that if you use Hotmail for your primary email, you’ll get the best spam protection in the industry – no one does it better.
If you’re already using Hotmail, we want to hear from you. You can use the Feedback link in Hotmail to let us know about your own spam experience.
If you haven’t tried us out in a while, take a look. If you have a Hotmail account that you haven’t been using, you may see some accumulation of mail you don’t want. Some of it might be old spam, and some might be graymail. (That’s legitimate email that you just don’t want, like newsletters or daily deals you’re no longer interested in. We’ll have more on that subject soon.) We recommend using Sweep to clean up your Inbox, then using Hotmail as your primary email for a while to get the benefit of our improvements, especially what we’ve done with personalization. Once you start using your account again, you should see very little spam on an ongoing basis.
We’re working hard to keep spam out of your inbox, and we hope you like the results. As always, thanks for using Hotmail.
Group Program Manager, Hotmail
We’ve talked about our approach to connecting the file cloud, app cloud and device cloud. A key part of the work we are doing in the app cloud is to bring the benefits of cloud-based file sharing to email apps.
In this post, Lia Yu, a product marketer on the SkyDrive team, describes the problems people have with traditional email attachments and how the cloud can solve them. We’ve also included a few tips for how SkyDrive can help at work – where we’re often inundated with attachments. (SkyDrive may be particularly helpful if your workplace hasn’t made the switch yet from outdated to modern tools.)
We hope you find these tips helpful – and look out for more updates soon.
- Anand Babu, Group Product Marketer, SkyDrive
Every day, the average office worker receives over 170 email messages a day, and sends over 35. With that kind of volume, it’s understandable that over half of the average work day consists of dealing with email. That’s over 1000 hours a year. It’s worth taking a look at where people can save some time on the process.
Dealing with email attachments is a big contributor to the amount of time spent on email. In Hotmail alone, there are over 1 billion email messages sent with file attachments per week. While attachments can be useful, in many situations, they aren’t the right tool for the job.
To see how much time an attachment can waste during its life, click here to see our infographic.
Here are some examples of when attachments are frequently a waste of time:
If you use email to work with others on a doc, everyone has their own edited version saved locally on a computer that they then have to send as an email attachment to the group. With so many doc versions being sent back and forth, docs can get lost and a lot of extra work is created. If people edit simultaneously, someone will have to go through multiple versions and try to merge edits into one doc. It’s colossally inefficient and potentially migraine inducing.
Photo courtesy of The Oatmeal www.theoatmeal.com © 2012 Matthew Inman
If you need to share files with a large audience, using email often means sending files over and over again—either because you need to update the files after you send them, or because the people you sent the files to lost your attachment in the chaos of their inbox.
Most of us have had the problem where we tried to send files that got bounced back because their file size was too big, or because your recipient’s inbox couldn’t handle a massive file you just sent. Even if you zip or break apart your attachments, that takes a lot of extra time-wasting steps to send those files.
Photo courtesy of The Oatmeal. www.theoatmeal.com © 2012 Matthew Inman
Accessing your important files anywhere should not require you to send an email to yourself. Even though we all do it, that method is pretty primitive. You usually end up having to search for the email buried somewhere in your inbox or sending it again later.
Today’s cloud services offer a great alternative to attachments that solve many of these problems. Instead of emailing docs back and forth for group editing, SkyDrive lets you edit the doc in one place using Office Web Apps or Office on your PC and Mac—saving all your versions in one place. Sharing files, large or small, is also easier on SkyDrive because you can send out a link to the doc to avoid attachment size limits. Also, you can use the link to edit the doc even after you send it to others.
Yet despite the efficiency of the cloud, the vast majority of people still cling to email attachments. What’s holding people back? While some services solve the attachment problem better than others the real enemy is inertia. We spend so much of our time in email that attachments seem like the most convenient option.
There are two key things we are doing to address this inertia:
Our primary approach has been to bring SkyDrive into the natural place where people send files, which as we’ve mentioned is email. Hotmail allows you to easily send documents and photos via SkyDrive. The integration of Office Web Apps means you won’t lose your formatting when you send your files as online documents. And you can even configure Hotmail to always send files using SkyDrive by default.
Of course, for people using services like Gmail, you can access your email right from Hotmail as well as import your contacts. This way, you can send those links to SkyDrive files using the Hotmail features, while still keeping your Gmail identity.
Already, files uploaded to SkyDrive represent over 15% of the total number of email attachments sent via Hotmail every month. This share is growing rapidly – with monthly uploads to SkyDrive up over 90% in the last year alone.
We know that people share files using many different devices, apps and email clients. That’s a key reason why we’ve focused on making it easy for developers to add SkyDrive to their experiences.
An example is Xobni who recently released a SkyDrive Gadget. If you use Xobni for Outlook, it’s easy to email a link to a file on SkyDrive without leaving Outlook. Use the gadget to find the SkyDrive file that you want to share. With a single click, you can copy the link to your clipboard or compose a new message including the link.
To help overcome inertia, we have launched a new site www.attachmentssuck.com to help you teach your friends how to make the switch from attachments to SkyDrive. Encourage your friends and co-workers to start saving themselves (and you) hours of time.
In addition, here are a few power tips that are particularly relevant if you share presentations frequently. (You can get other tips for avoiding attachments, here.)
Upload your presentations (or any other file) to SkyDrive. You may also want to use folders or subfolders to keep all of your presentations related to a particular topic or customer in one place. That way, it’s easy for you to reference and easy for recipients to find content—with a single a link to your folder.
If you install the SkyDrive Gadget for Xobni, you can send a link to SkyDrive files right from Outlook. Just click the SkyDrive gadget tab in the Xobni app, find the file you want to share, and click “Email a Link” to pop up an email window with the link.
Unlike other cloud services, SkyDrive integrates with Office Web Apps so your recipients don’t need to have the same version of Office that you do (or any Office software) to be able to view what you send them. Also, thanks to our recent sharing improvements, you can easily share files in any of your SkyDrive folders without having to copy or move them to a special folder.
Note: The Xobni gadget gives your recipients access to view files only. If you want to let them edit your doc or add files to a folder, visit SkyDrive.com to get a link to view and edit.
If you’ll need to make edits to the presentation later, open it from SkyDrive in PowerPoint 2010 and pin the presentation to your Windows 7 taskbar for easy access. Then you can easily update it on your PC and anyone with your link will automatically have access to the updated version.
If you’re giving your presentation remotely or on a screen, you can include a unique bit.ly link on the last slide that directs viewers to your presentation on your SkyDrive. Just go to bit.ly, enter the SkyDrive address of your presentation, hit “customize” and enter a unique and descriptive title after the forward slash. Like: bit.ly/skydriveecards.
If you’re giving handouts of your presentation, you can create a QR code to include on the printed version, linking to your presentation on SkyDrive, so meeting attendees can scan the tag/code and access the presentation. To add a QR code to your bit.ly link, just append .qr to the end of the URL like so: bit.ly/skydriveecards.qr. Click the link, and you’ve got your QR code.
When you’re on the road, you can view and edit the presentation from anywhere—even if you’re on a device without Office, using the Office Web Apps on SkyDrive.
SkyDrive will continue to fight the good fight against the attachment problem. We will do this by making SkyDrive an even better alternative to attachments and by working with partners to bring SkyDrive to the places that people share today. If you’re a developer inspired by our mission to solve the attachment problem, our APIs are available here.
Lia Yu, Sr. Product Marketer, SkyDrive
It’s nearing the end of January, and that’s a good time to think about those New Year’s resolutions. A year ago, you might have called us crazy, but a lot has changed in the last 12 months and as a result, there are now many reasons why you may want to consider leaving Gmail and giving Hotmail a try. As we’ve talked about on this blog, Hotmail’s come a long way and we definitely think it’s worth giving Hotmail another look. We’ve started to see some folks make the move from Gmail to Hotmail, and so we want to share with you how to do this.
From what we’ve heard, some of the top reasons why people are making the move from Gmail to Hotmail include:
a. In your inbox, click Options and then More options.
b. Click Sending/receiving email from other accounts.
c. Click Add an email account.
d. Provide your Gmail account details.
That’s it—you’re ready to go! And you can add other accounts too—from Yahoo, AOL, or other providers. Here’s a quick video showing you how to do this:
So start the New Year fresh with a new inbox from Hotmail, built to be the best email service in the world. And for those of you making the switch from Gmail, let us know what you think.
Director - Windows Live Product Management
We think it’s critical that our customers can use Hotmail from any device they choose. So, in addition to making Hotmail work great on devices running Windows, we’ll continue to invest in great experiences on other major device platforms. The recent release of iOS5 and our Hotmail application for Android has made it even easier to use Hotmail on those devices, and the result has been over 12 million active Hotmail users on iOS and over 3 million active users of our Android application.
The Hotmail team is happy to announce that our Kindle Fire application for Hotmail is now live in the Kindle store and ready for download for free. The Hotmail Kindle app gives you several advantages over the native Kindle Fire mail application. Whereas the native Kindle application simply downloads your mail via POP3, with the new Hotmail app you can sync all your mail, contacts, folders, and subfolders via the more robust Exchange Active Sync protocol. Because the Kindle Fire uses a different implementation of Android, we needed to make some updates to our previous Hotmail app for Android to ensure it worked well. Now that we’ve finished the work and the app is ready, we’re excited to give customers a great Hotmail experience on the Kindle Fire. Take a look and let us know what you think.
Director – Hotmail Product Management
SmartScreen®—it’s not just for spam anymore. The latest release of Hotmail uses Microsoft SmartScreen to automatically identify more than a billion newsletters every day. Since newsletters account for more than a quarter of all the mail in a typical inbox, having them automatically categorized is a big time-saver.
When inbox spam was at 30%, our job was really clear—our enemy, clever as he remains, was impossible to miss. We made huge investments in SmartScreen and reduced spam to historic lows of less than 3%.
With spam at manageable levels, we began looking at the rest of the inbox, and what we found was pretty surprising.
We could easily tell which messages were person-to-person, and we identified spam getting past our filters. The majority of what was left was something we refer to as graymail, and when thinking about how to deal with graymail, it became clear that the fundamental problem wasn’t just which things to accept or reject. Unlike spam, which everyone wants to be rid of, there is no general agreement on how to deal with graymail.
We believe the solution lies in delivering features that enable you to manage your graymail. With that in mind we introduced powerful new tools, including Sweep, Scheduled Cleanup, special views of the inbox, and other enhancements to put you in charge.
However, as cool as these tools are, they require maintenance to stay current and rely on you to identify the messages to be managed. We know you’ve got a busy life, so we wanted to do more.
The basic idea is to identify what a message is before you see it, and to take special actions on the message where it makes sense to do so. At its core, this is not a new concept. SmartScreen already classifies and flags messages as spam and/or malicious and tells the message delivery system how to handle the message.
For example, based on the threat posed by a given message, SmartScreen may decide to:
We learned a lot in the fight against spam, and since the infrastructure was already in place, it made a lot of sense to apply those lessons and our new tools to graymail management. By automatically categorizing graymail, we can make Sweep, Scheduled Cleanup, and all the other cool new tools even better. The big question was where to start.
When we looked at the graymail portion of the inbox (a whopping 82%!), a few things immediately jumped out. Social networking has really become a big part of everyone’s lives in the last couple of years, and the email notifications associated with Facebook, Twitter, and other popular sites have become a large part of people’s inboxes as well. Fortunately, the most prevalent senders in that category are well-known, don’t change that often, and are easy to detect, so we shipped the Social Updates view in the last release of Hotmail.
However, we knew there was a bigger prize, a segment of email so pervasive and chatty that it completely dwarfed social updates—to the tune of 50% of some folks’ inboxes!
Every day the average person’s inbox is flooded with messages from thousands of different retailers, clubs, societies, and schools, or with coupons, deals, and notifications from deal aggregators talking about all the exciting things that people need to be buying, doing, or seeing. We refer to this subset of graymail as “newsletters.”
Newsletters are unlike notifications from Facebook or Twitter, which always come from the same email address, always look the same way, and mostly contain the same content. Newsletters are different. Newsletters can be extremely diverse. Anyone can send newsletters, and newsletters can include any format or content they like.
Dealing with that diversity meant we needed to take a different approach than the approach we took for social updates. And, because that diversity is a trait shared by other categories of graymail, we wanted to build something that could grow beyond newsletters.
To get Hotmail to identify newsletters for us, we began by making a list of newsletter characteristics and built a piece of software to extract them from incoming emails. This list forms the model of what makes newsletters different from all other mail and includes three aspects: presence of the List-Unsubscribe header, the sending email address, and what gets shown to the user.
With a clear definition of what we considered a newsletter, we created a reference set of about 10,000 messages that we classified as “newsletter” or “not a newsletter.” Think of the reference set as a test for our newsletter filter: the rate at which it correctly identifies newsletters defines its accuracy.
Using a technique called machine learning, we built a system that trained and adjusted the model until it reliably detected most of the newsletters in the reference set. Because the reference set was built from a completely random sample, we knew that the filter’s performance against it would very closely approximate “real world” performance. Once we were detecting most of the reference set’s newsletters, we began an internal pilot of the feature in September 2011—we call this “dogfooding.”
“Dogfooding,” the process of using our own employees to test new software using our real email accounts, was crucial to identifying and fixing problems with the filter. We provided the dogfood users with a way to report missed and incorrectly identified newsletters just as we do for the occasional spam message that gets through our filters. We spent several weeks analyzing the failures and adjusting the model until we’d worked out the known kinks.
For example, a major problem we identified early on was that financial services businesses tend to send all their mail from the same domain, and often have a lot of boilerplate language that closely resembles newsletters—even though they may not be. Rather than take the risk of filing away your bank statements, we decided it was better to leave these messages alone and trained the newsletter filter to ignore them.
In general, spammers are pretty indiscriminate and don’t think too hard about whether to send you a ton of offers for Rolex watches, cheap loans, or pharmaceuticals. With minor differences, everyone gets pretty much the same spam. The interesting thing about graymail is that you accumulate it over time, based almost exclusively on what you do online, and so every inbox is different.
We designed the newsletter filter to perform well for the average person’s inbox: correctly identify most of the newsletters most of the time. But this doesn’t mean we didn’t aim high. Let’s look at the data. Most newsletters are sent out on weekdays; about 1.5B newsletters are sent per day; newsletters make up about half of all email delivered to our servers. This represents 73% of the newsletters in an average person’s inbox (36% of all their email), and when we think a message is a newsletter, we’re right 97% of the time.
Getting this right allows you to filter or sweep these messages quickly, which means you can spend more time reading and responding to email than reorganizing it.
Using Hotmail’s categorization tool, you can change the categorization of a message—for example, marking or unmarking it as a newsletter. This generates feedback that the newsletter filter learns from, so it’s able to overcome previous mistakes as well as stay on top of new newsletters. This means the rules set up to deal with newsletters will not just apply to old ones, but also to new newsletters created after you’ve refined the rules to deal with newsletters. The best part is that SmartScreen learns from what customers do with their newsletters, and everyone benefits as the filter gets smarter!
With the newsletter filter now in the hands of all our customers, we will continue adding new categories and features that enable you to get the most out of them. We’re investigating ways to more effectively present and manage email-based receipts, bank statements, and more. We hope the newsletter filter can be a helpful tool in your own war on graymail. We love getting your feedback, so let us know how it’s working for you, and, as always, Thanks for using Hotmail.
Dick Craddock, Group Program Manager Hotmail
 Note: We will be changing this for the better in an upcoming release. Hotmail will soon use domain reputation to decide which messages to “light up” by default, lessening the burden on customers.
10 years ago this week, Bill Gates sent this Trustworthy Computing (TwC) memo to all employees. The memo called for the company to rethink its approach to products – putting security at the forefront. To capture the journey we’ve made in Trustworthy Computing over the last 10 years – the Trustworthy Computing (or TwC) Team has created this infographic on Microsoft News Center I recommend checking out. You should also read this blog post from the Microsoft Security Blog.
Today, Windows 7 makes it super easy for people to stay safe and secure with their PC. For example Action Center helps make sure a person’s firewall is on (such as the built in Windows Firewall) and if antivirus software is installed and up to date. It will alert you if either of these is not operating as they should. Windows 7 also includes Windows Defender which helps keep a person’s PC protected against spyware and unwanted software. You can also protect your data from theft with BitLocker which encrypts your hard drive. BitLocker-to-Go can be used to encrypt USB thumb drives if you’re storing important data on thumb drives. These are only some of the security features in Windows 7 designed to make your PC safe and secure.
When pairing Windows 7 with the latest release of Internet Explorer, Internet Explorer 9 – a person’s PC is even more safe and secure. For example - according to two reports recently released by NSS Labs, an independent security research and testing organization, tests show IE9 protects against more than 99% of socially engineered malware thanks to features like SmartScreen and Application Reputation (for more – see this blog post on Exploring IE).
You can see the results of Trustworthy Computing in Windows today.
Today, we’re pleased to announce that all of our customers have the latest release of Hotmail, with several new features, including those that we talked about in our earlier post about fighting the war on graymail. We’re excited about this release and hope you will be, too. So without further ado, here are ten new reasons to love Hotmail.
Today’s inboxes can get cluttered with lots of emails from the same sender, like newsletters or event calendars. Hotmail can automatically manage these messages by keeping only the latest email from a given sender. It’s easy—just select the sender, then choose Schedule cleanup on the Sweep menu, and then select “Only keep the latest message from this sender.” Hotmail will immediately delete all but the latest email from that sender, and each time a new message arrives from this sender, the older message will be deleted.
With other kinds of email, like daily deals and offers, you might want to keep several messages, but only for a few days. Hotmail can automatically clean these up, too, by deleting or moving these messages to a folder after a set amount of time. Just select a set of messages, then choose Schedule cleanup on the Sweep menu, and then select either Delete or Move all messages older than 3, 10, 30, or 60 days. Hotmail will take care of the rest automatically.
Have you gotten yourself on a mailing list you no longer need? It happens to all of us – you sign up to some web site, and the next thing you know, you’re getting a bunch of newsletters that you don’t really want. With Hotmail, unsubscribing from unwanted newsletters has never been easier. We’ve combined Unsubscribe with the power of Sweep, so unwanted messages are removed from your inbox instantly and permanently with One-click Unsubscribe. Just select (or open) a newsletter, and then choose Unsubscribe on the Sweep menu. Hotmail takes care of all the details like telling the sender to take you off their list, setting up a rule to block messages from that sender, and even cleaning up your inbox if you want—all in one easy step.
We all get important email that we need to get back to later. Now, Hotmail makes it easy, by letting you instantly flag important messages and pinning those messages to the top of your inbox. Those messages stay pinned even when new email arrives, so you never lose track of that email gift card, your flight itinerary, or other important messages. You can even set up rules to automatically flag messages from specific senders.
Here’s a video showing you how to use flags:
Millions of people share photos through email. Now, Hotmail gives you a beautiful photo album every time you send photos, and with our new release, you get to see that album as you compose your mail. You can even edit the title of your album right inline and add and remove photos before sending.
Let’s face it, attachments can be a hassle. If the files are too big, or if you attach too many, you might hit sending limits. Or, even worse, the people to whom you’re sending the files might hit limits with their email system, and never receive what you’re sending. That’s why we built SkyDrive right into Hotmail. Now, whenever you send a file, photo or document, you can choose to have that file stored on SkyDrive instead of sending it as an attachment. Using SkyDrive means that everyone will receive the files without any problems, and you no longer have to worry about attachment limits. It’s so easy to use SkyDrive that you can even make it the default for sending all attachments.
Speaking of attachments, have you ever sent an email to someone meaning to include a file or photo, but forgot to attach it? Hotmail now includes a new Forgotten Attachment Detector that reminds you to attach a file when there are phrases like “see attachments” in an email with no attachments. We’re still tweaking how it works, but right now our detector will catch about 75% of forgotten attachments.
We’ve spent a lot of time studying how people use their inbox, and as part of that, we know that certain actions occur very frequently. We’ve taken several common actions—delete, flag, and mark as read/unread—and made them instantly accessible in just one click with our new Instant Actions. But we went one step further. The new Hotmail lets you customize your own Instant Actions so that your inbox works the way you want. You can set up Instant Actions to categorize messages, sweep messages, mark messages as junk or even move messages to a folder, making things like one-click archive a snap.
We heard from our customers that they wanted more from our folders and subfolders. That’s why we made sure creating and managing folders is easier than ever before. Now, you can create new folders inline and drag one folder into another to create a nested hierarchy. You can also move messages to a folder using drag and drop. And the new right-click menu gives you fast, easy access to common folder operations:
If you’re using an Android phone, you can now easily access your Hotmail account with the official Hotmail Android app. The app has full EAS support to sync all of your email, calendar, and contacts. It supports multiple Hotmail accounts on the same device and displays new mail notifications on the Home screen. The app has been downloaded by over two million Android users. It can be installed by visiting the Android Market and searching for Microsoft Hotmail, or just by clicking here. Best of all, it’s free!
We hope you enjoy the latest release. Let us know what you think—we’d love to hear your feedback. We will be hosting a live Twitter Q&A on the new Hotmail features tomorrow, December 16th, on Twitter from 12:30PM until to 1:30PM, Pacific Time. Use the hashtag #HotmailQnA in your question and follow us (@Hotmail) to participate in the conversation.
And, as always, thank you for using Hotmail.
Group Program Manager, Hotmail
We’ve previously talked about the principles that guide us as we strive to continue delivering the most convenient ways to chat with the people who matter the most to you. Today we’re taking another step, with the public availability of access to the Messenger network via XMPP, an open standard. This means that anyone can build innovative messaging clients—either stand-alone or built into their devices—that include access to Messenger’s 300 million active users.
This builds on our perspective that you should simply be able to:
We continue with our commitment to these principles, especially around enabling people to access Messenger from all of their devices by exposing an XMPP interface to Windows Live Messenger. XMPP is the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol which is an open technology for real-time communication used by a number of popular IM networks from Google Talk to Facebook Chat and now Messenger.
With the release of the XMPP interface for Messenger, any XMPP based chat client that can also support OAuth 2.0 for authentication will be able to connect to Windows Live Messenger to enable people to see which of their friends are online and chat with them in real-time and.
We currently support the following XMPP specifications
Developers interested in learning more about our XMPP interface can check out our code samples on GitHub along with the overview documentation on the Live Connect developer center. These should give you enough information to get started building integration with the Messenger network into your mobile apps, devices and web sites.
As you look over our XMPP implementation, please share your comments and feedback with us in the comments or on our developer forums. We always look forward to hearing from our developer community and improving the product based on your feedback.
Given that it’s the end of the year, I thought it would be informative to take stock of how what we’ve done so far to enable you to choose the device you want while continuing to enjoy our services. With this announcement, we now have universally available protocols for accessing all our major services. There’s OAuth 2.0 for Live ID, a REST API for SkyDrive, Exchange Active Sync for Hotmail, and XMPP for Messenger.
Thanks to these protocols there is universal access to SkyDrive, Hotmail and Messenger either using Microsoft-authored applications on mobile platforms like Windows Phone and iOS or using applications written by other developers such as HandyScan on Windows Phone and Hotmail for Android by Seven.
As we go into the new year, rest assured that we have more ways we plan to delight developers and our customers as we further our vision of enabling users to choose the services and the devices they want without compromise.
Lead Program Manager, Live Connect Platform
The Hotmail team got some great (and humbling) news recently – Hotmail was named best web application of 2011 by PC Magazine. We were particularly excited to see that people are taking notice of Hotmail’s war on Graymail and the work we’ve done this year to make Hotmail faster. There are a lot of great web applications out there, and we’re in great company, but it was an honor to make the very top of the list.
As always, this is an honor we share with the hundreds of millions of you that use Hotmail every day. There’s still a lot more to do, and we look forward to delivering it to you.
David Law – Director, Hotmail Product Management
Microsoft Outlook is the most popular email software in the world with more than 150 million active users. Hotmail is the largest email service in the world with more than 350 million active users. Outlook and Hotmail are better together, and our teams work closely to deliver a great connected experience for free to our millions of users with the Outlook Hotmail Connector. We’re continuously improving the Connector based on the feedback we hear from you, our shared users.
We hear often from Outlook users that they “live” every day in the product, and that they like to be able to manage both their work and personal email accounts in one place. The Connector lets them do this easily. Our shared customers can use Hotmail as a free, personal cloud service for Outlook side by side with the Exchange-based or other email accounts they use for work.
So why is Hotmail best for Outlook users? Here are a few of the things we hear that our customers find most useful.
Both Outlook and Hotmail support flagging emails to help you remember to act on them. If you flag a message in Outlook, it shows up as flagged in Hotmail and vice versa. Many people use their inbox like a “tasks” list, so flagging an email for follow up is a great feature. In Hotmail, you can quickly see all of your flagged tasks by clicking the “Flagged” Quick View in the left side navigation. In Outlook, you can make a search folder for Flagged emails to create your own quick view. Simply go to the “Folder” tab, click “New Search Folder,” and select “Mail flagged for follow up.”
Both Hotmail and Outlook also let you to right-click on a message to take actions like “reply,” “move,” “forward,” “mark as read,” “delete,” and more. And Hotmail now supports instant actions right in the message list to let you do things like moving email to a folder, sweeping messages, deleting, junking, and categorizing. Outlook has a similar feature called the Quick Access toolbar. Just right click on the ribbon menu in your inbox to enable it. These quick actions work with your Hotmail and your Outlook accounts.
WiFi and 3G connections are nearly ubiquitous today, but there are still times when no connection is available. When you travel, for instance, you may still want to be able to access your mail, calendar, and contacts even if there’s no connection available. You can simply sync your Hotmail data before you board, and the updated information will be available in Outlook.
Hotmail and Outlook both support multiple calendars. You can access and manage all your Hotmail calendars in Outlook, including any public calendars (like the ones available at iCalShare.com) and your shared calendars. We hear from our users that shared calendars are most often used for family scheduling. With the Connector, you can see all your calendars, including those shared family calendars, side by side or overlaid with your other Outlook calendars, like those that you use for work.
We make sure to keep your Hotmail and Exchange-based data separate in Outlook, but you can easily drag and drop content between them. For example, we know that most of our users receive personal email in their work accounts sometimes. With the Connector, you can just drag those messages into your Hotmail inbox. You can do the same with personal contacts, dragging them from Hotmail into Exchange to make sure you have a backup. You can also drag an email into your Hotmail calendar in order to maintain all the email information in the description field. You can even drag and drop events from one calendar to another. Let’s say you have to take a trip for work. You can drag your travel itinerary from your Exchange calendar into, say, a Hotmail shared family calendar. This copies the event so your significant other can see it anywhere he or she accesses Hotmail calendar. And with the new Hotmail calendar change notification feature, unique to Hotmail, anyone sharing a calendar automatically gets an email whenever you add or edit something on that shared calendar.
We know that many Outlook customers use email rules to automatically highlight, categorize, or file messages. With the Connector, you can also run Outlook rules on your Hotmail messages. For instance, you can have a rule set up in Outlook to automatically highlight any email that is sent only to you. When a message addressed just to you arrives, even if it’s sent to your Hotmail account, Outlook highlights it for you. That way, you know you likely need to act on that message more quickly than to a message that has been sent to lots of people at once. Rules are incredibly powerful and are nearly infinite in the ways you can combine them to manage your mail in ways that work just for you. The rules you’ve set up in Outlook will run on your Hotmail inbox when Outlook is running, but you can also set up rules in Hotmail itself. Give ‘em a try. In Hotmail, just go to Options, under your name in the header, and select “Rules for sorting messages.” In Outlook, select the Rules folder on the Home tab.
We hear often from our users that most like to keep their work and personal email separate. Using the Connector, you can start an email in Outlook and send it from any of your accounts. If you select your Hotmail account, the mail is sent via the Hotmail servers. If you select your work or other account, it’s sent through Exchange or the appropriate server. Simply select the “From” button in Outlook and you can select the account from which to send.
Some people are mail “pilers,” some are “filers,” and some are “deleters.” Last year, we shared information about the breakdown of these types of users we see in Hotmail. More than 25% of Hotmail inboxes are managed by “filers.” Both Outlook and Hotmail support folders and subfolders for you filers out there, so you can stay organized and keep your inbox streamlined. Outlook syncs all of your Hotmail folders, and you can even create new Hotmail folders and subfolders from within Outlook. You can drag and drop emails into them, and the folders will automatically sync to any location where you access Hotmail, whether it’s the web, your smart phone, Outlook on your home computer, or anywhere else. You can even drag email from other accounts, like an Exchange account for work, into Hotmail and vice versa.
We are continuously making improvements to reduce junk mail and keep you safe. Outlook 2010 and Hotmail keep your Safe Senders, Blocked Senders, and Safe Recipient lists synchronized to ensure that the good mail gets through and the bad mail doesn’t. In Hotmail, you can right-click a message and select “Junk,” select messages and click “Junk” in the header navigation, or select “Junk” from the reply menu.
In Outlook, you can click “Junk” in the header or right click a message to Junk the mail and block the sender.
For those of you using the Outlook Connector, we’d like to hear your favorite features. Share your tips and tricks, and suggestions for feature improvements! If you’re not using the Connector yet, read on…
If you haven’t already given it a try, using all of these features is a snap. Just download the Hotmail Outlook Connector and follow the quick installation steps. The Connector will walk you through the process. You need to be a Hotmail user already, so if you’re not, go to Hotmail.com to sign up. And if you’re not an Outlook user, you can buy it or try it here.
Hotmail and Outlook are made for each other, and we’re continuously improving both. If you’re an Outlook user, you should be using Hotmail, too. Switching to Hotmail is easy. You can learn more about how to switch here.
Group Program Manager, Hotmail
Everyone has their own favorite way of keeping important email close at hand – marking unread, flagging, or filing in a folder. But each system has drawbacks. The new release of Hotmail solves this problem once and for all by making a simple and elegant change to the way flags work. Now, when you flag an email, that email gets pinned to the top of your Inbox, so it’s always right there – instantly available. The new release of Hotmail is rolling out now and will be available to all our customers within a few weeks.
We looked at what people are really doing in their inboxes and found some very interesting trends. We found that almost everyone has a way to mark certain messages as “important,” and we found an approach that we believe improves the experience for everyone.
One of the most popular ways of identifying messages that you want to return to is by marking them as unread, and then using the “unread filter” to view them. This works fairly well, since “mark unread” is well-supported in virtually every email client, and you even have keyboard shortcuts to make it fast and easy. But there’s a big problem with this method: new mail that you receive is automatically marked as unread. So your Inbox can quickly become cluttered, and it can be hard to find those important messages.
Another way to keep track of important messages is to move them to a folder, perhaps one called “Important”, and then visit that folder periodically. There are two problems with this approach. First, you have to choose between filing a message as “Important” or filing it where it belongs (perhaps your “Shopping” folder). Second, you have to remember to go check the folder!
Flags are also commonly used to track important messages. Most email services and clients support flags. But flags have their own problems. Just like folders, you have to remember to check the flagged folder or Quick View. And flagging a message still leaves it in the message list, which can keep your Inbox cluttered.
Hotmail has made a simple and elegant change to the way flags work. Now when you flag an email, three things happen:
Here’s a peek at my Inbox, with a few messages flagged:
The flagged emails are right at the top of my Inbox where I can find them easily. Unflagging a message makes it go back to where it came from in the message list, and it’s easy to flag or unflag a message just by clicking on the flag icon in the message list. Flagged messages show up at the top of the Inbox even if they are in other folders, which makes it easy to stay organized and still keep important messages right up front.
We think the new flagging behavior is a simple and elegant solution to keeping on top of your most important email. But we also realize that some people loved the way that flags worked before and don’t want any change. No problem! You can get the old flag behavior back instantly just by closing the flagged area at the top of your Inbox.
First, collapse the flagged area by clicking on the collapse chevron:
Then, click on the close box:
That’s it! Now your flags behave just as they did before.
If you want to turn the new flag behavior back on later, just go to options, and click on “Flagging” under the “Customizing Hotmail” section:
Some power users will want to use the new flagging behavior without giving up the old flag behavior. They want it all! Typically, these folks were using flags to identify messages that they want to come back to later, but that aren’t necessarily important, and they want to keep that behavior. But they like the idea of having important messages show up at the top of the Inbox. So they really need two different behaviors.
Hotmail has three new features that make this easy: personal categories, custom Quick Views, and customized Instant Actions.
Now this is definitely for power users, but then again, power users are usually the folks who want it all! Let’s see how it works:
First, we’ll create a category for “messages to come back to later” – let’s call it “For Review.” In the folder list on the left-hand side of your Inbox, just click on “New category” under “Quick views” and then type “For Review”:
Next, we’ll go to our Flagged messages by clicking on the Flagged Quick View. We’ll select all the messages and then categorize them as “For Review” using the new Category menu. Just select all the messages, then click on the Categories menu, click the checkbox next to “For Review” then click “Apply” at the bottom of the menu:
Now that we have all of our “For Review” messages properly categorized, we can un-flag them. With the same messages selected, just click on the “Mark as” menu and select “Unflagged”:
Perfect! Now we have all our old flagged messages in a new Quick View “For Review.” One last thing to do: Make it easy to mark new messages as “For Review” in just one click. For that, we’re going to customize the Instant Actions in the Inbox. We’ll make a new Instant Action to add the ‘For Review’ Category, and we’ll put the icon for this new Instant Action right next to the flag icon. Just go to Options, click on “Instant Actions” under “Customize Hotmail”, then click the “Add Actions” menu and select “Categorize” and select “For Review” as the category to use. You can use “Move up” and “Move down” to position your instant action where you want it, and then click Save.
That’s all there is to it! Now we’ve got it all: Flags to keep our most important messages at the top of the Inbox, a new “For Review” Category for those messages that we want to come back to later, and both “Flag” and “For Review” as Instant actions that we can access in a single click.
The new flag behavior is rolling out now as part of the release that also adds new features for managing Newsletters, Deals, and other notifications. We expect the release to be in the hands of all of our customers in the next few weeks.
We hope you enjoy the new flagging behavior and all the other new features for managing your email. Let us know what you think – we love the feedback. And thanks for using Hotmail.
Dick Craddock - Group Program Manager, Hotmail
Hotmail is the world’s leading email service, and last year we added support for Exchange Active Sync, allowing customers around the world to sync their Hotmail inbox, calendar, and contacts to their mobile phones through the power of Exchange. Although we’ve had this support for a year already, with the release of iOS 5 it is now even easier to set up Hotmail on your iPhone or iPad. Since the release of iOS 5, more than 2 million customers have connected Hotmail to iPhones or iPads, and we’re just getting started—almost 100,000 new iOS 5 devices are being set up with Hotmail every day.
Here’s a snapshot of Hotmail connections to iOS 5 devices. As you can see most are iPhones, with over 60% on iPhone 4 and higher, and almost 25% on the new iPhone 4S.
Distribution of iOS 5 devices
Our work for Hotmail on smartphones doesn’t stop with iOS – we have great support for Windows Phone, Nokia, and BlackBerry – and with our new Android client, it’s now even easier to get started on Android.
So, whatever phone you have, it’s a great time to switch to Hotmail.
- Chris Jones
In previous posts on our blog, we talked about how we’ve reduced true spam in the inbox to under 3% using SmartScreen™ filtering. But we realized that getting rid of true spam wasn’t enough, because 75% of the email messages that people reported as spam are really legitimate newsletters, offers, or notifications that you just don’t want anymore. We call this type of unwanted email graymail, and we’re excited to announce five powerful tools to help you take control of your inbox, get rid of graymail, and keep track of the email that’s important to you.
In the early days of email, most mail in the inbox was from someone you knew, but today’s email is used for much more, and so the inbox is different. More than half of the mail in a typical inbox is newsletters or deals, 17% is social updates, and about 14% is person to person email. The rest represents mail from group distribution lists, shopping receipts and commerce, and true spam.
The problem with today’s inbox is that it is easy for it to get filled up with mail you don’t want. It could be newsletters you signed up for and forgot about (but keep getting), or it could be newsletters you get when you join a new service (and forgot to uncheck that pesky box that says “send me lots of email!”). Or it could even be updates you get from a social network or website. What really characterizes graymail is that the same message that one person thinks is “spam” could be really important to another person. It’s not black and white, hence the name.
Despite the drastic decrease of true spam in the inbox, we found that most customers are still seeing newsletters, product offers, and other clutter. In fact, 75% of email identified as spam by our customers actually turns out to be unwanted graymail that they receive as a result of having signed up on a legitimate website. And because of inbox clutter, it’s easy to lose track of the really important messages in your inbox that you want to get back to. So we decided in our upcoming release to add five new features that help customers take back control of their inbox.
We’ve talked about categories for a while now – in our last release we delivered automatic categorization of social updates, messages that contain Office documents, messages with photos, and even shipping notifications. We’re now adding a special category for newsletters. We use the same SmartScreen™ technology that helps us fight spam – a machine learning engine that gets better over time. Right out of the gate, we’re 95% accurate with the mail we categorize as newsletters, and this will only get better as you help us build the feature by categorizing or un-categorizing your own mail. In fact, every time you categorize an email as a newsletter, you help make our filtering better for yourself and every other customer.
Sometimes you don’t want a newsletter, but it’s hard to find out how to stop getting it. Now with Hotmail you can do it all in one step. Click on unsubscribe, and we’ll do the rest – let the site know to stop mailing you, use Sweep to immediately clean up your mail and remove all the old newsletters from that sender, and finally send any new ones that come in to your junk mail until the sender takes you off their list.
There are other times you want to keep getting the newsletter, but only want to keep the latest copy. This is great for shopping sites or deals where the newsletter is really only useful for the first week and then the offer expires or a new newsletter takes its place. Today, we’re introducing Schedule Cleanup, a new tool, unique to Hotmail, that works behind the scenes to keep your inbox organized. With Schedule Cleanup, you can:
Here are some ways to use Schedule Cleanup:
The war on graymail isn’t just about deleting things or moving them to folders. It’s also about making sure you can find messages quickly, especially messages that are most important to you.
This happens to our customers all the time: they get an important message and want to keep it right up front where they won’t forget it. How do you handle that? A lot of people mark the message unread. But, of course, as new mail comes in, that can get confusing. Some people forward the message to themselves so that it stays at the top of their inbox.
At Hotmail, we think the right way to track important messages is with flags, and our upcoming changes make flags even more powerful. Now when you flag a message, it gets “pinned” to the top of your inbox and stays there, even as new email comes in. This means it is easy to keep track of your most important messages, right up front, all the time. What’s more, you can even set up rules to automatically flag incoming mail from certain senders, so that your most important mail is always right there at the top of your inbox.
Of course, flags are a category, just like newsletters or social updates, so you can use Sweep or Schedule Cleanup on flags.
While we think these automatic categories work great for most customers, we recognize that some customers want even more control over their inbox, or they like using labels in products like Gmail. So we’re adding support for custom categories, powered by Sweep and Schedule Cleanup, so they are easy to set up and use.
You can quickly create a new category and apply that category to all related messages at the same time – no searching for mail, no complex rules to create. You can categorize messages right in the message list with the new categories column. And categories show up as QuickViews right next to folders, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.
Now if you’re a filer and use folders, you might be wondering how all of this helps you. Categories, Sweep, and Schedule Cleanup work great for folders. Simply click on a message, click Sweep or Schedule cleanup, and move all messages from that sender (or in a category), including future messages, to a folder. And of course, you have the same ability to create your own folders and sub-folders. But we didn’t stop there – we’ve added advanced folder management tools: nested folder with drag and drop, creating new folders right inline, and a new right-click menu for folders that lets you mark everything in the folder as read, or rename, empty, or even delete the folder.
Whew! That’s a lot of new features for fighting the war on graymail and keeping track of your important messages. And we’re just getting started. We’ll have more on these features and others as they roll out in the coming weeks. So try out our new tools when they hit your inbox and let us know what you think!
Dick Craddock - Group Program Manager, Hotmail
Ever wonder how Hotmail stores the billions of email messages we receive each day? Keeping our customers’ data safe and readily available is an immense responsibility that we take very seriously. And to do so efficiently at our scale is a sizeable engineering challenge. This post will discuss how we address some of these challenges and reveal some major improvements we’re making in our storage system. Kristof Roomp is an architect in the Hotmail team and has been working on our storage system for the last 6 years.
Hotmail’s storage system supports over one billion mailboxes and hundreds of petabytes of data (one petabyte is a million gigabytes, or a million billion bytes). The system services hundreds of thousands of simultaneous transactions from across the world. Just like the rest of Hotmail, our storage system is built using Microsoft technology, including Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server. These systems are the backbone of Hotmail and are crucial to meeting the high standards we’ve set for the reliability and availability of our service.
The folks who work on Hotmail storage have three main goals: keeping your emails safe, providing new functionality to the Hotmail service, and running the service as efficiently as possible. In many cases, safety and efficiency go together. For example, by automating routine maintenance tasks and providing monitoring to detect problems before they appear to our users, we can reduce the chance of human error and thereby significantly improve the reliability of our service.
Recently, we’ve been working on a major upgrade to our storage system. Starting at the beginning of this year, we’ve been running the new system on a pilot cluster, using personal accounts of Microsoft employees who have volunteered to be test pilots. We’ve now finished certifying this new system, and are satisfied that it provides better reliability to users at a significantly lower price.
I’ll describe some of the key technologies that we have developed at Hotmail to make this happen.
First, what is RAID?
RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) is a technology that allows several hard drives to be attached to a single controller board, which makes them look like a single larger and much more reliable hard drive (sometimes called a “Logical Unit”) to the software running the storage system. A RAID system stores data on multiple drives so that if a single drive fails, the data can be automatically recovered. Although this sounds great in theory, in practice losing an entire RAID set happens all the time, especially if you have thousands of machines.
In Hotmail, we’ve been using RAID for a long time. In order to avoid losing email messages when a RAID set fails, we keep your email on multiple RAID groups, so that even if an entire RAID set breaks, we can still restore your messages.
However, as we looked at deploying drives with capacity greater than a terabyte, we realized that we weren’t getting our money’s worth from a reliability perspective. The reason had to do with the idea of “correlated” as opposed to “independent” failures.
As an analogy, think about engines on an airplane: there are many failures (such as mechanical problems) that only affect a single engine. These are called independent failures, and having more than one engine is helpful in these situations. However, if you were to run into a big flock of birds or run out of fuel, all engines could fail at the same time. These are called correlated failures, since a single event causes multiple failures.
In a similar way, RAID systems can easily deal with problems that affect single (or two in some configurations) hard drives, but they don’t help if the whole machine or the RAID controller runs into problems. For larger drives, we found that having completely independent copies (on hard drives not sharing the same machine or controller) was much more reliable than a significantly more expensive RAID configuration.
The new system ensures that the copies of data reside on independent hard drives, controllers, and machines. This kind of system is nicknamed “JBOD,” which stands for “Just a Bunch Of Disks.” In a JBOD system, the hard drive controller almost completely gets out of the way, which means that the software must now worry about all the failures that the controller previously handled. These failures can range from firmware bugs on the hard drives themselves to issues such as “unrecoverable read errors” that previously were automatically fixed by the controllers. In addition, the software must now scrub the drives periodically to check the data for “bit rot” (i.e., data that has for some reason become unreadable or corrupt). So basically, we built a distributed "RAID" controller completely in software, which replaces the industry-standard firmware ones.
The software we developed for the JBOD system monitors the hard drives schedules repair actions, detects failures, and diagnoses repairs. This software consists of a number of “watchdogs” that constantly monitor for certain types of failures. If the watchdog detects the failure that it is looking for, it raises an alert, which automatically triggers a repair process. This repair process can range from rebooting a machine or restarting a process, to fixing data corruption or even involving a human if progress can’t be made. We'll talk more about our advanced platform for monitoring, deployment, and repair in a subsequent post.
A big advantage of managing the drives in software is that the system knows exactly how many good copies of an email message we have. In the case where it finds that there are too few copies, it can prioritize repair actions to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. In situations where repairs are taking too long, it is possible to move data to another location altogether. This is also possible in RAID in a limited fashion, but it requires that every RAID controller has an extra spare drive hooked up to it, which increases costs significantly.
Building our own distributed system to store replicated email messages was a significant development effort, although the replication itself was simplified by the fact that email messages in Hotmail stay exactly the same as they were when they were delivered (in fact you can see exactly what is stored in Hotmail if you do a “View message source”). Data about email messages that changes (such as read/unread, location in a folder, etc) is stored separately.
The storage system consists of a set of machines, each of which has its copy of an email message and a journal recording messages that have arrived, organized by arrival date. The machines talk to each other from time to time, compare their journals, and copy any messages that they realize haven’t been copied to all machines. This can happen for a variety of reasons, mostly due to machine, network, or hard drive failures. In some cases, the journals are too far out of sync, in which case the system does a full comparison/copy.
Although hard drives have gotten bigger and cheaper, the speed at which they can retrieve data hasn’t changed much. This means that although we can pack more data on larger hard drives, the hard drives would eventually be unable to handle the rate of requests.
One technology that is promising in this area is Flash Storage (also called SSD, or Solid State Drive). SSDs use technology similar to what you'd find on an SD card or USB stick, but with a faster internal chipset and a much longer lifespan. A normal hard drive can perform a little more than one hundred read/write operations per second, whereas some of the fastest SSDs can do over one hundred thousand operations per second. However, this comes at a hefty price, as these devices are 10 to 100 times more expensive than hard drives when you look at what you pay per gigabyte of storage.
To explain how SSDs could help us, I’ll first describe how Hotmail stores your mailbox. In addition to storing the email messages themselves, we also track information about these messages (called metadata), such as the list of messages in your inbox, read/unread status of your messages, conversation threading, mobile phone synchronization etc. This metadata takes up an extremely small fraction of our total storage space, but due to its constantly changing nature, it is responsible for most of the load on our hard drives.
By using SSDs for this small and rapidly changing set of data, and using the largest hard drives available for storing messages, we are able to take advantage of the trend in larger and cheaper hard drives without making any sacrifices in the performance of our system.
What happens if your account is still on one of our older machines? Well, don’t worry, since the older systems run on smaller hard drives, there are more than enough disk operations/sec available to handle your inbox.
We’re extremely excited about our new storage system. The rollout has already begun and all new clusters that we deploy going forward will use JBOD. We will also retrofit JBOD to our existing systems over time. We have about 30 million users on JBOD today, with another 100 million moving to the system over the next couple months.
Our team is already planning and doing early design work for the next set of innovations, which will include hardware architecture changes and low-level software improvements to further increase the efficiency of our storage. We’re looking at patterns of email content and how our users access their data to inform our future designs.
These advancements will ensure that we can scale our service as we continue to expand our features for organizing your inbox, making you more productive, protecting you from spam, and providing you with the fastest, most reliable email service on the planet. Thanks for using Hotmail.
This blog post is a follow-up on the outage that occurred on September 8th. Just before 8:00 PM PDT that day, we became aware of a Domain Name Service (DNS) issue that was causing a service interruption for some some Microsoft services, including Windows Live services such as Hotmail and SkyDrive. No customer data was lost or compromised during this outage. The team has investigated the root cause and has taken immediate steps to improve.
So, what happened? A tool that helps balance network traffic was being updated and the update did not work correctly. As a result, configuration settings were corrupted, which caused a service disruption.
At 10:23 PM PDT we began to see service restoration. We confirmed that the incident was resolved by 11:35 PM PDT, although it took some time for the changes to replicate around the world and reach all our customers.
We determined the cause to be a corrupted file in Microsoft’s DNS service. The file corruption was a result of two rare conditions occurring at the same time. The first condition is related to how the load balancing devices in the DNS service respond to a malformed input string (i.e., the software was unable to parse an incorrectly constructed line in the configuration file). The second condition was related to how the configuration is synchronized across the DNS service to ensure all client requests return the same response regardless of the connection location of the client. Each of these conditions was tracked to the networking device firmware used in the Microsoft DNS service.
After restoring service, we have identified two streams of work to drive specific service improvements around monitoring, problem identification, and recovery. Along with these service improvements, Microsoft is focused on further hardening the DNS service to improve its overall redundancy and fail-over capability.
We are also developing an additional recovery process that will allow a specific property the ability to fail over to restore service and then fail back when the DNS service is restored. In addition, we are reviewing the recovery tools to see if we can make more improvements that will decrease the time it takes to resolve outages.
We are determined to deliver the very best possible service to our customers and regret any inconvenience caused by this outage.
Arthur de Haan
Vice President Windows Live Test and Service Engineering
If you've been trying to use Hotmail, SkyDrive, or our other Live properties in the last couple of hours you may have noticed problems accessing our services. We're aware of these issues and actively working to resolve them. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your patience.
UPDATE 9:45 PM PT:
We believe we have restored service for all customers at this time. We will continue our investigation into the root cause of these issues and post an update following our investigation. Again we appreciate your patience and apologize for the inconvenience.
UPDATE 11:02 PM PT:
We're aware of reports including the comments posted below that some customers still are seeing issues. We are working on propagating the DNS configuration changes and so it will take some time to restore service to everyone. Again we appreciate your patience.
UPDATE 11:49 PM PT:
We have completed propagating our DNS configuration changes around the world, and have restored service for most customers. Depending on your location you may still experience issues over the next 30 minutes as the changes make their way through the network. Thank you for your patience as we have worked to address these issues.
We continue to believe that one of the best ways to provide our customers with great Microsoft product experiences is to let them connect to the other apps, services, and devices that they love—getting richer, more powerful experiences in both. From bringing Facebook into Messenger to letting you send email to your LinkedIn colleagues from Hotmail to powering the Twitter integration in Windows Phone's People Hub and more, we think it should be easy to use the services you choose. Your services should just work great together, without obstacles pushing you or your friends to "switch" services along the way.
Messenger and Facebook Chat is one of the key places where we're excited to see this come together—users love it, and we're literally seeing 100X the daily, per-user chat engagement from this approach compared to the traditional "federation" model. Messenger has been the world's leading IM service for many years, and about 5 years ago we worked with Yahoo! to start bringing the networks together. But at the time, all of us were frankly still quite worried about the risks of connecting, and so we took what clearly turned out to be the wrong approach for a "social" service like instant messaging, which is inherently about your social graph.
What we did at the time was "federation,” just like a traditional phone network or email service. If I use Messenger and not Yahoo!, and you use Yahoo! but not Messenger, but we want to chat with one another, I can send you an invite to become my "friend" on Messenger, and if you accept it, we're good to go. This does cover some good scenarios, but it's fundamentally broken for the most common case—if I'm a Messenger user and I've spent lots of time building my Messenger friends list, but happen to want to use Yahoo! or any other "app" as my device or client of choice, then I'm either stuck, or I have to re-spam every one of my friends with a new invite to "friend" me on this other service so we can do something we were already doing.
Again, this just isn't what most users need or want for a social app like messaging—I've got my social graphs where I've built them, and I want to just be able to choose the device or app I want to sign into those services and have everything just work. Said another way, I should be able to communicate with the friends I already have on the services I choose, without having to make them buy the same device as me or re-spam my friends with new invites.
By contrast, about a year ago we launched Facebook Chat integration, powered by the simple "connect" model where I connect my Facebook account to Messenger (just once), and the following just happens automatically:
We've posted before about the ongoing overall growth of Facebook Chat from Messenger—we're now at 5 billion monthly Facebook IMs in 984 million conversations from 12.3 million monthly active users.
And while we're excited about that continued overall momentum, we also wanted to share how these numbers compare with the "federation" approach that we've previously tried, and that some services are still more focused on today. Even after 5 years of having federation with Yahoo, and even though for most of that time both Yahoo! and Messenger global IM traffic has dwarfed total Facebook Chat traffic, when we look at a typical day like July 31, 2011, here's what we see:
So in just 1 year of having used the open "connect" approach for IM, we're seeing 100 times the per-user engagement, and nearly 7 times the total traffic from a fraction as many users. And that’s after 5 years of building on the "federation" approach with Yahoo! You might wonder how much of this effect may just be due to the Facebook Chat audience itself being highly engaged. On a monthly basis, the level of engagement with Facebook Chat from Messenger is similar to what we see for active Messenger users in general—so while that’s part of the story, it’s mostly about automatically having all of your friends there, without having to spam them with invites again.
Jeff Kunins, Group Program Manager, Messenger & Connect Platforms
A key goal of the revamped developer platform is to make it easier for websites to integrate Hotmail, SkyDrive, and Messenger into their sites in ways that are meaningful and beneficial.
One site that has taken advantage of our platform in this manner is The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post is a popular news site which features articles and blogs that cover business, entertainment, politics and current affairs. It’s currently ranked as one of the top 100 sites on the Internet by Alexa. The site has a number of features that make it easy for people who use popular email and social media sites to easily log in and share content with their friends. The Huffington Post recently added integration with Hotmail, allowing Hotmail users to easily share content with their friends and even sign up & sign in to the site using their Hotmail account.
Each article on The Huffington Post, such as this story on Hurricane Irene, offers an option to share the article using social media services or email.
When you choose the email option, a set of email providers is listed, and you can select Hotmail.
Selecting Hotmail kicks off the OAuth 2.0 based consent workflow, which asks you to give The Huffington Post access to your info, including your Hotmail contact list.
When you give The Huffington Post access to your info, you can share the article with anyone in your Hotmail contact list.
If you have a Hotmail account, you can also connect The Huffington Post to your account to simplify the process of logging in or signing up for an account on the site. When you sign in to The Huffington Post, there’s an option to sign in using your Hotmail account.
When you sign in using your Hotmail account, the same OAuth 2.0 based consent workflow enables The Huffington Post to access your info. In only a few seconds, the sign up process is populated with the info from your Hotmail account.
Instead of having to enter a bunch of info, you can sign up for new accounts with The Huffington Post with a few clicks.
As more sites take advantage of the ability to integrate with Hotmail and offer email-based sharing, which is still one of the most popular ways to share content online, we’ll continue to look for ways to improve the experience for both our partners and for our customers using Hotmail.
The new pinning feature in Internet Explorer 9 makes a great compliment to the Hotmail sharing experience. The Huffington Post recently started using the notification features to pull their customers in from outside of the browser, and they’ve gotten 49% more time on site from customers who pin. Try it yourself on The Huffington Post or Hotmail. And if you want to learn about how you can enhance your site with pinning capabilities, visit BuildMyPinnedSite.com.
Lead Program Manager, Messenger Connect Platform
Hotmail Calendar has more than 18 million customers creating more than 1 million events per month. We're happy to announce that we've just released an update to Hotmail Calendar that addresses the most common request we get: improving the way reminders work.
Now you can:
To set up and start using your new reminders, just go to the Calendar options page.
If you haven’t tried Hotmail Calendar yet, give it a shot. It’s the best way to get reminded of your events and to keep track of what’s going on with family and friends through shared calendars. To try it, click the Calendar link in Hotmail, or go to http://calendar.live.com.
Dick Craddock, Group Program Manager, Hotmail
Last week we asked people what sort of inbox they have. This week we want to discuss that further and what we do to organize our email based on whether you are a filer, piler, or deleter. You may have noticed that Being Allison and The Dirty Shirt both described themselves as pilers and we know there are a lot of you out there. What you may not know is that there are a lot of easy ways to go from being a piler to a filer or even a deleter!
And because we know having a clean inbox is only one step to having a cleaner and more efficient life, we are running a giveaway* during our weekly Tech Tuesday Live Twitter Chat. To enter, you will have to respond to three tweets during the hour. They will be tweeted from @windowsblog and prefaced with Q1, Q2, and Q3. Simply respond to those questions using the hashtag #win7tech to be eligible to win. Oh, still curious what you could win? We’ll be giving away $500 worth of cleaning services from Merry Maids. That’s more than a clean sweep, its peace of mind. See you Tuesday.
* No purchase necessary. Open to legal US Residents 18+. See official rules.
Note we will only be talking about the outlined topic each week and we will not be answering questions outside those topics. Questions for this week may include: What’s the best feature of Hotmail? How do I use sweep? What PC is best for a piler, filer or deleter?
Today we are beginning to re-enable the ability to create new Linked IDs. This change is rolling out in the next couple days and should be complete this week.
For some customers – particularly power users – you’ve told us that it’s essential to be able to juggle multiple accounts. Over the last year we’ve added several powerful new ways to do this – specifically aliases and email aggregation (“POP aggregation), on top of existing features like “plus addresses”. Each of these is a great solution designed to help a different scenario:
As we have made these changes, we looked at how most people use Linked IDs and found that, for the most part, they were used to solve exactly these problems – managing multiple email addresses and accounts. In our major update last month, one of the things we did is turn off the ability to create new Linked IDs, instead encouraging use of our new features. However it became clear from listening to your feedback that there were many people who used Linked IDs for other reasons, and so we are making a change today to re-enable the creation of Linked IDs.
We appreciate your feedback and we will use this blog going forward to proactively communicate any changes we make to the Windows Live ID system.
Eric Doerr – Group Program Manager, Windows Live Cloud Directory
I get a lot of email every day and not just from all the amazing people who read this blog. Instead, I get a lot of shopping site updates, some notes from my friends and occasionally a forwarded email from my mom. In case you were wondering who still receives chain mail pass-along, it’s me and it only comes from two sources: my mom and my ex-boyfriend’s mom. Anyway, when you add it up it’s a lot of mail. If you’re wondering how I manage all, well I have to admit, I’m a filer.
A filer is one of three personas Hotmail discovered based on data on the way people organize their inbox, no matter what email service they’re using. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that I fell into the filer category with my sorted and ordered email account. While my life outside of the inbox might be a chaotic mess, my email is a neat and composed as a military troop. Nothing here is out of line. On average, people like me file 44% of every email and over half have set up rules so that mail will automatically file (I do this with said ex-boyfriend’s mom!). This is even easier with Hotmail’s Sweep to File feature and it’s also great that I can bring in multiple email accounts directly into Hotmail. This way all of my mail gets pooled in one place making it that much easier to stay on top of it all!
I went asking around to find out what other people on the Windows Experience Blog do with their email, and have to admit I wasn’t shocked to find out the responses.
Ben the PC Guy is a “deleter,” his inbox is lean and light. On average people like Ben delete OVER 8,500 emails A YEAR and over a quarter of those go directly into the trash without ever being read. For those of you like Ben, the folks at Hotmail recommend checking out the Sweep to Delete tool. Ben and other “Lean and Light” personalities could benefit from Sweep to Delete since 5% of all of this type of users email gets lost in the shuffle. Maybe that explains why Ben the PC Guy never answered my request for a PC with unicorns on the cover that made a noise like sunshine whenever it opened.
On the other hand, Brandon LeBlanc is a “piler”, his inbox is a happy mess. He keeps over 57% of emails….forever! I like to pin it on the fact that he wants to prove everything he ever did and wants to always be seconds away from the latest email you sent him. What this means is that he has over 9,000 emails that pile up in his inbox each year and that he is super reliant on search for finding messages that are hard to find; this is made even easier with Quick View. This is also why Brandon is the king of “I told you so.” In particular, he likes to reference the email in which he told me Ben the PC Guy would never respond to my request for a bedazzled unicorn PC. Le Sigh.
Want to find out what kind of email persona you have and the Hotmail tools that compliment your style? Find out about all the latest and greatest features here or by joining our regular #win7tech chat from 12-1pm PT on August 23rd to discuss new innovations in Hotmail.
Last year, we shared some data about the behavior patterns of people using email. We found that we could group them neatly into three types based on their behavior—Filers, Pilers, and Deleters (we previously used the term “Purgers” instead of “Deleters,” but decided on a nicer term). One of the comments on that blog post said, “I am VERY happy you guys look into this kind of behavior, it must certainly be important when designing future uses of the product,” which was a nice comment and also true—we have, indeed, used this data over the past several months to create many of our new features. We thought it would be fun to share a behind-the-scenes look at some of the features we’ve released based on that data.
First of all, the most important lesson we’ve learned over the years is that people manage their email differently. Everyone has a slightly different way of approaching email, and it’s always interesting to see how people organize their inbox. Like you, I’ve sat next to someone in a meeting or on a plane and stolen a quick glance at their inbox. And like you, I’ve seen all kinds of crazy things: I have been shocked to see very organized people with 17,000 messages, and I am jealous every time I see a tidy inbox with zero messages. Some people are unabashed Pilers and others are proud Deleters. As we continue to improve Hotmail, we try to build a myriad of tools and tricks to help all kinds of users organize their inbox.
We found that most people are Deleters (53% of those studied). As the name implies, Deleters generally delete email after it arrives. Deleters receive an average of 211 email messages each week and end up deleting almost 80% of them. When we talked to these users, we found that they typically skim their inbox, delete everything unnecessary, and then begin to respond to the most important messages. The mantra for these people is, “My kitchen has to be clean before I start cooking.” In fact, they delete three out of ten emails (31%) without even reading them. Because Deleters want their inbox clean and tidy, their feature requests normally involve more tools for quickly cleaning out their inbox so they can get down to business. Sweep, for example, was a feature we built to make life easier for this type of users. Our goal is that Deleters can get to their most important email even faster after sweeping away anything they don’t want to read immediately.
Filers, on the other hand, are characterized by their zeal to move messages into folders. Filers make up a quarter of our users and receive slightly less email each week—201 messages—than Deleters. But Filers put nearly half of their email (44%) into folders immediately after it arrives. They are more likely to use our full range of features; a third of this group use vacation replies (32%) and almost half of them use keyboard shortcuts (44%). Not surprisingly, 53% of Filers set up custom filters or rules to route email to folders or subfolders. Filers often request advanced tools for routing and categorizing email. Because they value an organized inbox, we also assume that Filers often segregate their email even further and have multiple inboxes for different purposes. Multiple inboxes, of course, create inefficiency. This is especially true for Filers, since they have to maintain multiple sets of inbox rules. Our team looked at the problem from another angle and created the Aliasing feature. An Alias allows Filers to create several email addresses from a single Hotmail account. Because we had Filers in mind when we built Aliasing, we ensured that email sent to an alias could automatically be routed directly to a particular folder.
Finally, there are Pilers. These are the folks I mentioned earlier that have 17,000 messages in their inbox. Of the three types of users, Pilers receive the least amount of email each week (174 messages). But that means they still receive an average of 9,048 email messages per year. Because most of those messages (57%) never leave the Piler’s inbox, their email starts to pile up. By definition, the Piler isn’t excited about nifty tools for filing or deleting. Pilers want to keep all their email, so they need plenty of storage. But we did find that Pilers felt they “lost” email (read: were unable to find email) about 30% of the time and they also want to be able to find things fast. So we built a few of our recent features, like Advanced Search, Quick Views and One-Click Filters, with this type of users in mind. Even if Pilers don’t do anything proactive to sort or file their email, they can use Quick View and One-Click Filters to see all emails from Facebook, all emails with photos attachments, etc.
We have gotten several questions about the customer data to build Hotmail, so we put a bunch of the data and videos of the resulting features on a website. Take a look and let us know what you think.
David Law – Director, Hotmail Product Management
There are a lot of bad things on the Internet, and few are worse than phishing scams. But there is a certain class of phishing scam that has earned a special level of disdain and disgust, at least from me. I’m talking about the phishing scams that target Hotmail customers using my name, my picture, and even my signature. Grrrr.
Let me clear something up right off the bat: I will never ask for your password. No one from Hotmail or Microsoft will ever ask for your password. In fact, no legitimate service will ever ask for your password. If you ever get an email asking for any password to any service, you can be sure, without a shadow of a doubt, that the email is a phishing scam. Just junk it. (Or, in Hotmail, mark it as a phishing scam using the “Mark As” menu.)
Spammers want to send spam. That’s what they do. As I said in my last post, we’ve made it hard for them to send spam with new accounts due to the effectiveness of our account reputation work. So, spammers have turned to hijacking customer accounts in order to send more spam.
Phishing scams are one of the simplest ways that spammers use to gain control of your account. The spammer sends an email that asks for your password, usually with a threat that your account is about to be closed. You reply, providing your password, and, Voila! Your account (and reputation) is hacked.
Spammers do this on all networks and all services – Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo!, Facebook, AOL – spammers do not discriminate, and no service is immune.
Hotmail sends email to our customers fairly regularly to update people on various things, such as the availability of new software or features, or even to remind people about security measures, like creating a strong password or adding your mobile phone number to your account.
About a year ago, we decided that we would make these messages more personal by including my name, my picture, and my signature.
That decision has really come back to haunt me.
Almost immediately, the spammers copied that email, including my picture, name and signature, and modified the content so that it said something like “Your account is about to be shut down unless you reply to this email with your account name and password.”
This is a classic example of a phishing scam, and one of the most common ways that accounts get compromised. Here’s an example:
The bottom of that same email looks like this:
Yep. That’s me, all right. But that email is definitely not from me.
Phishing messages can look very real and convincing, so even smart, tech-savvy people fall for them. I get asked about this quite a bit.
Here’s a conversation that took place on my public Facebook page. The first person asks, “I got this message, is it really you?” In response, our Development Manager, Eliot, displayed both his penchant for pithiness and his mastery of high school French:
Phishing scammers know that they’ll get better response rates by using my pictures and my signature to produce email messages that look legitimate. They even translate their scams into multiple languages to broaden their reach.
As I’ve said, any email that asks for your password is a phishing scam and shouldn’t be trusted. You don’t need to look any further to know the message is a fake. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see how “creative” the scammers can get. Here are some tactics scammers use to get people to provide their account info:
They copy Hotmail’s marketing images. These phishing messages usually contain the latest image from Hotmail’s own marketing campaigns, like this one:
They provide a bogus reason for needing your password. The messages usually contain an introduction that offers a false explanation about why they need your password. Some of my favorites include:
Rest assured: NONE of these will EVER be a legitimate reason to ask for your password.
They design a subject line to scare you. The subject lines call for your immediate attention and are often intended to be scary. Here are a few common examples:
(Scammers really like to use exclamation points!!!! A lot!!!)
They send the email from a bad “From” address. The “From” address in the email is often a dead giveaway. At a glance, it might look like you’ve gotten mail from the Hotmail Team. But if you look at the actual email address, it’s almost always something fishy (phishy?). Typically, scammers just use the name of a Hotmail customer account.
In a perfect world, no one would ever give out their password, and the phishing scams would be ineffective, and would just stop. You’ve already taken a step to helping us get there by reading this post, and now you can help pay it forward by educating others.
Any email that asks for your password is a phishing scam. If anyone ever asks you, “Hey, is this email legit?” just say, “If it asks you for your password, then it is absolutely, definitely, without question a scam! Report it as junk!”
As a final note, some of you might be wondering, Why can’t Hotmail detect these scams? We can detect these scams and do detect many of them. But it’s just a numbers game, and spammers are capable of producing a huge volume of phishing scams, with enough variation in the text and images to fool our filters a small percentage of the time. In addition, it’s important for us to keep the false positives low – meaning that we don’t want to mistakenly identify a legitimate email sent from a good user as spam.
So, until we get to that perfect world without spammers, we’ll be here building better and better systems to battle the bad guys. Thanks for reading, and thanks for using Hotmail.
Dick Craddock, Group Program Manager, Hotmail