Switching to Hotmail: what’s stopping you?

ms-hotmail-logoToday we reported on an effort by our pals over at Hotmail to make a little hay on some of Google’s recent negative publicity, by posting 3 simple steps on how to switch from Gmail to Hotmail.  Since then, in the comments here and on the Inside Windows Live blog post have pointed out a number of reasons why some users may not be quite ready to make the switch (back) to Hotmail, and we thought they were worth pointing out.

Hotmail does not support IMAP, which Wikipedia calls “one of the two most prevalent Internet standard protocols for e-mail retrieval” (the other being POP3, which Hotmail does support, but is far less functional), and that can be a problem if you’re trying to get your email onto your phone, or into a desktop email client.  What Hotmail does support is Exchange ActiveSync (version 2.5), which can be used on an iPhone or Android Phone to sync push email, calendar, and contacts.

Hotmail is supported by Apple iOS5 devices, and there are apps, for Android and even a newly released one for the Kindle Fire, so it’s getting easier to get Hotmail whatever you use, but still, IMAP is a standard protocol while Exchange ActiveSync is a proprietary, licensed Microsoft product, one that is supported by Gmail and not Hotmail, and a reason some don’t make the switch.

A couple of commenters on the Inside Windows Live post mentioned Google Calendar as superior to Hotmail (was Windows Live) Calendar.  First, ControlZ said:

The only way Gmail currently beats Hotmail now is with the Calendar, and maybe Contacts as well. Calendar really needs search and a cleaner interface… A bit like Google Calendar. And Contacts again needs a cleaner interface, with the option to, for example, add more email fields.

I love the changes being made to Hotmail, but contacts and especially calendar need an update.

and Tomasz Olędzki added:

Reason #2 – lack of Hotmail Calendar sync in many PC/MAC desktop calendar apps (Gmail uses CalDav)

On our post as well, calendar quality was a big complaint:

From Matthiew Nate:
I am satisfied with the change regarding emails but disappointed by the calendar experience.

From doctorwhofan98:
I am also not happy with the hotmail calendar experience. It really needs search, and a cleaner interface. I personally prefer Hotmail’s interface to Gmails.

and from “0110110101100100
calendar and contacts management. They suck. Really.

Hotmail’s somewhat glaring display ads were also mentioned, both here and on the Inside Windows Live post, in opposition to Gmail’s somewhat less obtrusive text based ads.  Back in June, SkyDrive removed a skyscraper ad to make more room for a cleaner interface, as we noted at the time:

One interesting side note – Anand Babu told us that a decision was made to take back the real estate from the former right side skyscraper ad, they simply needed more room. So instead of an ad, SkyDrive visitors will see a contextual menu

Maybe Hotmail will come to the same conclusion!

The Brand
Ok, elephant in the room time.  Hotmail just has a negative connotation in many places and among many people around the world.  In fact, back in February 2007, Microsoft attempted to change the name of Hotmail (to Windows Live Mail), but quickly rethought their “strategy”, as outlined in a Hotmail team blog post at the time:

We also found that many users were extremely loyal to the Hotmail brand and perceived the beta as an upgrade to Hotmail. In fact, our most loyal users have been very happy with Hotmail for years and while they loved the improvements in the beta, some were a bit confused by name change.
As we prepare to launch the final version of our new web mail service, we recognize the importance of ensuring that our 260+ million existing customers come over to the new service smoothly and without confusion. By adopting the name “Windows Live Hotmail”, we believe we’re bringing together the best of both worlds – new and old. We’re able to offer the great new technology that Windows Live has to offer while also bringing the emotional connection many existing and loyal users have with Hotmail.

So while negative connotations for Hotmail persist, Microsoft may be less than willing to change the name of a service that’s used by hundreds of millions of people around the world.  We do have a suggestion, however (but don’t even get us started on the missed opportunity with the @live.com domain!) – why not make better use of the custom domains features of Windows Live Admin Center?  We’re sure that many people aren’t even aware that you can use your own domain name connected to a Hotmail account (our @liveside.net addresses do exactly that), but it would seem to be a solution for those who want the convenience of Hotmail but can’t quite stomach the Hotmail name.

One positive note: Microsoft has come full circle on the importance of continuing to improve Hotmail, and we’re hopeful that these deficiencies are already being addressed.  What will it take to get you to switch to Hotmail?