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Microsoft this week offered a preview of the next release of its Windows Live Hotmail service and client as the company prepares to refresh several of its Windows Live consumer and small business products.
The move comes only three weeks after Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer showed off an upcoming update to the Windows Live Messenger instant messaging client during a speech in Brazil.
"These days, you're getting more e-mail than ever -- e-mail that often requires you to leave your inbox to complete an action," Dick Craddock, group program manager for Windows Live Hotmail, said in a post to the Windows Team Blog on Tuesday. "You're getting bigger and bigger attachments, and you're using smart phones where you want to sync not only your e-mail, but your contacts and calendar, too."
The changes in the ways people use e-mail have radically shifted the set of tasks that they need to perform, Craddock said.
For instance, on Hotmail, some 360 million users currently exchange 1.5 billion photos and 350 million Office documents per month.
The new Hotmail will let users store documents -- up to 10 GB worth or 200 50 MB files -- on a Windows Live SkyDrive account, making it simpler to make that information available to other users.
In addition to the recent preview of Live Messenger, in the past week, Microsoft also announced it plans to migrate users of Office Live Workspace over to its Live SkyDrive offering.
Users of the upcoming Hotmail client will also be able to view and edit Office documents in the client using Office Web Apps, the browser-based versions of the key Office applications, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that are freely available for consumers, Craddock said.
The Office Web Apps for consumers are set to debut on June 15.
In addition, the new Hotmail will also provide new features for managing the higher volumes of e-mail that users are receiving today, including a "sweep" function that lets users quickly clean unwanted e-mails out of any inbox.
"You can also sweep your Gmail and Yahoo Mail Plus inboxes, too," Craddock noted. "Just add them into your Hotmail account and sweep the clutter from those accounts as well."
Increasingly, users need to access e-mails and documents when they're away from their PCs -- so it's no surprise that the new Hotmail also provides improved support for mobile devices.
"Hotmail supports push e-mail on the Web, PC and now also on the mobile phone," Craddock said. "Using Exchange ActiveSync, available on nearly 300 million phones, you can not only seamlessly synchronize Hotmail between your phone and the Web, but you can also synchronize your calendar, contacts and tasks."
Company officials have not yet said when the new Hotmail will be available, except that they expect to begin beta testing "in coming months."