When Google introduced the GMail beta two years ago on April 1, many thought it was a sly and considered trick aimed at making Microsoft scramble. Hotmail had 2mb accounts, and that's the way it was for 200 million users, as the service was seemingly maxed out, unable to handle bigger storage needs brought on by photo and multimedia files. Those free 1gig GMail accounts were free for a select few, making them much easier to manage – email storage that sounded bigger, but actually operated on a much smaller scale, at first. And of course almost nobody keeps a gigabyte of email, anyway, so much of the advantage was really in marketing, and in making Microsoft play catch-up. In the next months, Hotmail did seemingly scramble, perhaps because of the threat from Google, or perhaps because an upgrade to the service was needed anyway. Service became spottier for a time, as 250mb free accounts and 2g paid accounts were introduced, somewhat painfully. Lots going on behind the scenes, you could tell.
When Microsoft rebuilt Hotmail and their ability to store user content online, however, they didn't patch together a quick fix. They performed a major upgrade on the back end, and extended it – fixing problems that had been plaguing them for years – and building out an infrastructure ready for a new generation of services. Now, that infrastructure is coming on line, able to store, secure, access, search, and account for hundreds of millions of customers and their data. The next step, to introduce a new set of software services that will take advantage of the rebuilt foundation, is just getting underway. Some of those changes are beginning to appear in Windows Live applications, and in announcements of upcoming features.