Vale, Hotmail: What Microsoft’s new Outlook means to email senders

Barely two weeks after the release of Outlook 2013 Preview and Outlook 365, Microsoft have further unified their email clients by rebranding the Windows Live Hotmail as Outlook. But the question on the minds of all email designers is: does the retirement of Hotmail mean the renewal of an old webmail client, or is Outlook just more of the same?

It's not hard to feel just a little nostalgic about the Hotmail brand. Launched in July 1996, then acquired by Microsoft in 1997, it was the startup success story of the '90's dot com boom. Outside of the tech scene, Hotmail made webmail mainstream - for millions, it was a first email address, a new way to view email anywhere via a browser.

However, today's transition of all Hotmail accounts to Outlook has closed the door on that. Along with a change of domain, Outlook has completely overhauled the Hotmail interface, bringing it in line with Microsoft's Metro family of apps:

The new Outlook

Outlook's rendering remains the same

Appealing to either the enthusiasm or sheer apathy of email designers, Outlook's CSS support remains identical to that of Windows Live Hotmail. But before the transition to Outlook simply gets written off as a coat of makeup on an aging email client, it's worth keeping in mind that more has changed than the cull of a couple of gradients.

Images blocked by default

Points of note for email folks is that image blocking has remained the default, except for emails that are manually marked as originating from 'trusted senders'. Also, the default font for h1, h2 and h3 headings is 'Segoe UI', unless you explicitly state otherwise in your CSS styles.

Adding Outlook.com and Live.com addresses to the mix

In what may become the latest online land grab, Outlook has made it exceptionally easy for Hotmail users to claim 'aliases', or @outlook.com and @live.com email addresses (plus some localized variants). All mail to these addresses are routed to the original Hotmail/Outlook inbox. The upside to this for senders is a near-unlimited supply of email addresses for testing email campaigns. For recipients, it's an easy way to transition from a daggy @hotmail.com address to a more professional-sounding @outlook.com email address. It's likely that we'll see more of the latter and less of the former in our campaign reports shortly.

Unsubscribes - now with automatic blocking

While Outlook continues to use SmartScreen to separate interesting email from spam and other undesirable messages, the big change is in how unsubscribes are handled. As CNN.com reports:

The service automatically detects and labels newsletters and promotional offers from stores. For emails that Outlook recognizes as an ad, it will add a universal unsubscribe button to the message. Click it, and Microsoft will not only unsubscribe via the retailer, but will automatically filter any future promotions into the trash if that unsubscribe gets ignored.

How this will affect subscribers who unsubscribe in error, or resubscribe a while later is yet to be determined. We hope Outlook will honor incoming newsletters after subscribers rejoin lists and will be sure to let our readers know when we have an answer on this one.

Hasta la vista, Hotmail

Outlook represents a coming of age - it's as if Hotmail has been deemed mature enough to claim its place alongside Microsoft's family of home-grown email clients. It's also grown up to embrace the variety of ways we communicate today, by pulling in content from social networks, as well as instant messages. But for designers, it may feel like more of the same... Depending on your sentiment towards the Metro look and feel, of course.

What do you think of Hotmail's transition to Outlook? Is it simply a minimalist reskin of their UI, or something more profound than that? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

25 Comments

  • Julian Wellings
    1st August

    Good insights thanks.  According to this article for the time being it will exist separately from Hotmail.  Presumably they will encourage users to migrate in the meantime and then eventually retire Hotmail. http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/31/outlook-preview-email-service-microsoft/

  • Julian Wellings
    1st August

    I just migrated my Hotmail account to Outlook.com. Presumably for campaign testing purposes it doesn’t matter whether we retain our existing Hotmail account or migrate to Outlook.com because the HTML rendering is the same. Do you agree?

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    2nd August

    Hey there Julian, just to clarify things, all Hotmail accounts have been migrated to the new Outlook interface already. If you retain your old @hotmail.com address, start a new @outlook.com address, or create an alias, all email will go into a Outlook inbox. So test away - rendering is indeed the same in Outlook as it was in old Hotmail :)

  • Noyo
    3rd August

    Okay, but at the moment it is possible to create any Outlook-account that you want. But what if I choose an Outlook-account name that already exist in Hotmail (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address))? What will happen if this Hotmail-client tries to change it in .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)? It is simply not possible for them? I have already tested this and it doesn’t work properly. Do anybody have any ideas about this?

  • Casey
    4th August

    Hmmm, I’m still seeing the old interface in my personal hotmail account (i see the new in my work test account though).

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    4th August

    @Noyo - The impression that I get is that Microsoft have no intention of migrating @hotmail.com addresses to the @outlook.com domain. The former will work indefinitely. I’ve registered both .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) without incident.

    @Casey - Interesting! They may be staggering the migration to Outlook, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some mechanism for switching over. Interestingly, it is possible to revert from the new Outlook UI to the original Hotmail one.

  • Liz Long
    7th August

    I wonder if anyone can help!
    I am an HTML email designer and am currently having problems with certain images not displaying at all in the new Outlook client.
    All images have absolute urls and display fine in Outlook 2007, Yahoo, Gmail, old Hotmail and iCloud.

    I’ve tried everything and can see no reason why only some images are not rendering. They have the exact same styling as the ones that do!!

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    8th August

    Hey there Liz, this is unusual - if you get in touch with our team with campaign details, we’d be happy to look into why this is happening. Note that Outlook does block images by default.

  • Nathaniel
    8th August

    So the h2-6 green issue Hotmail had with edm’s is now a blue problem. Grr. Why won’t Microsoft fix this?!

    Also, how do I view blocked images in Outlook.com? All documentation I can find is for Outlook desktop app. Any hints appreciated.

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    8th August

    Hi Nathaniel, hah, it does feel like deja vu, doesn’t it? Yes, you can get around the heading issue by explicitly providing styles, otherwise Hotmail will have you seeing blue ;)

    In regards to images, they should appear by clicking the ‘show content’ link under the ‘Parts of this message have been blocked…’ prompt in the reading pane. It isn’t very explicit, I know.

    Let us know if you have any other q’s - we’ll do our best to help :)

  • A. Wormhoudt
    10th August

    I really don´t like this. After the (not asked for) switch to Outlook I am not able to do anything with my hotmail account. Every click gives an error message ´done, but with errors on page´.... please give me back my hotmail as it was.

  • Jarrod
    11th August

    You know this was written by an Australian: “daggy” haha. Not exactly universally understood and Google provides some hilarious explanations.

    Good article, thanks for the update Ros.

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    11th August

    @Jarrod - Hah! Well, isn’t that so - I think it’s going to take a lifetime to iron out my Australian creases! For the benefit of others, here’s what ‘daggy’ means. :D

  • AntoxaGray
    16th August

    While new outlook looks sexy, I gonna stay loyal to thunderbird.

    I just don’t like how microsoft make options and plugin support.

  • Jonathan
    31st August

    I had to look up “daggy” too. Hope to be able to use it in future just to confuse people.

    It’s the 29th August and I’m still getting “good” old Hotmail here. Only use it for testing though, so I’m not really bothered.

    Happy Thursday.

  • Josh Parkinson
    28th September

    Whether or not I log in to my email from outlook.com or hotmail.com, I still get hotmail.com interface - not a hint of blue in sight. How do I fix his?

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    28th September

    Hi there Josh, it sounds like Microsoft is progressively migrating folks over. It was an automatic process for myself, but if there isn’t a link in your account, you can try posting on Microsoft’s Hotmail/Outlook forums. Best of luck!

  • Evan Coughlan
    30th September

    I have two old hotmail email addresses but when i was told that I should snag an Outlook id fast before a namesake does first, i made a completely new .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) address . I then found out that I can change the name of my old addresses but i want the new i chose for my new outlook address but it says it’s unavailable. I’m wondering if there is a way to put my old into the new outlook one so that whenever someone sends me an e-mail it goes to the new outlook address. Any help would be appreciated, Thanks

  • Rosanne Hodgekiss
    2nd October

    Hi Evan, your best bet is to post this question on Microsoft’s Hotmail/Outlook forums. Sorry we can’t be of more help here!

  • Andrew
    18th October

    In some recent tests I’ve done there are noticeable differences in font rendering between hotmail.com and outlook.com

    I’m on a Mac and it looks to me that that outlook.com is using ‘PC style’ font rendering to display text. Fonts appear thinner and the anti-aliasing effect is different.

    Line spacing is also different.. Does anyone know of a good article on line spacing in HTML emails and getting them consistent?

    Overall, some of my tests of the same HTML email look quite different in hotmail.com vs. outlook.com

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    18th October

    Hey Andrew, thanks for sharing your observations here. After speaking to ‘one of my sources’, I can confirm that there are going to be significant changes creeping into Outlook.com - so this is a great heads up for us to test it on a more frequent basis. We’ll be sure to scout around for the changes you’ve mentioned in the weeks ahead.

    Line height is a very tricky one across a range of email clients. While I don’t have a resource specifically on this, I can recommend using a ‘reset’, namely p { margin: 0; padding: 0; line-height: 0; } then building up from there. But in general, line height is one of those things where you can expect variation and have to design accordingly.

    If you have any tests you can share or further observations, please be sure to get in touch, either here, on our forums, or via support. Thanks for being so vigilant!

  • Natalie
    12th March

    Andrew, did you manage to find any articles about line height? I just firebugged one of my emails that I sent to a test account (Outlook, Firefox 19.0.2) and it looks like it’s decided to give my text a line-height of 142% and a height of 88%, despite the fact that the copy is using pixels in the following inline style:

    <td >copy</td>

    Strange..

  • Natalie
    12th March

    Sorry that style tag doesn’t seem to have displayed. The td style attributes were

    color:#818080;font-family:verdana, arial;font-size:11px;line-height:14px;font-weight:normal;text-align:left;

  • Alison
    15th August

    Where can i see email addresses that i have blocked in the past ?  I have the new outlook email

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    15th August

    Hi Alison, you can find Blocked Senders in Outlook.com in Settings (gear icon in the toolbar) > More mail settings > Safe and blocked senders link (under ‘Preventing junk email’) > Blocked senders. Best of luck :)

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