What can Hotmail offer over a certain emerging webmail standard? A good bit, it turns out. Windows Live Hotmail now offers inbox-cleaning Sweep and filter functions, Exchange support, direct Office Web App tools, in-message slideshows and video, and more.
The slideshow, video and instant document opening in Office Web Apps are all neat, but we've seen versions of them in Gmail. What's new and neat in Hotmail, and of interest to inbox obsessives, are the quick sorting and Sweep features. When you arrive at your inbox, you can hit a link to quickly see only email from contacts, product shipping notices, social network updates, or mailing lists. The "Sweep" function is pitched as a more simple system than creating filters and rules in Gmail—select messages you either don't want, or don't need to see in your inbox right away, hit the Sweep menu, and tell Hotmail what to do with them. Whenever you next receive that type of mail from that sender, those messages will automatically end up deleted, in a folder, or however you last "swept" your inbox.
Windows Live Hotmail also provides Exchange ActiveSync support, which pushes messages, contacts, and other data to Outlook clients, webapps, and the mobile devices that support it—Palm's WebOS at this point, but iPhone OS 4 and Windows Phone Series 7 in the near future. Hotmail remains a free service, requiring a free account to use. Note that these features haven't rolled out yet -- the official word is "[US]summer worldwide", though (as with Google) worldwide may mean "not much more than the US to start with".
What could Hotmail offer that would truly put Gmail in its place? What's the next feature you're waiting to see from the Hotmail team? We are all ears in the comments.
Re-inventing Windows Live Hotmail – the next generation of personal email [Windows Live Team Blog via CNET]