Microsoft's New Hotmail Features Target 'Graymail'

Microsoft's new Hotmail features are designed to remove clutter from users' email inboxes.

Microsoft is tweaking Hotmail, aiming to remove endemic clutter from its users' inboxes.

These new tweaks, which are scheduled to roll out in coming weeks, target what the company called "graymail," which include newsletters plus updates from social networks and Websites.

Hotmail's latest graymail-killing features include a new newsletter-filtering function, which is paired with a one-click ability to have Hotmail tell various companies you no longer want to receive their daily or weekly email. (Hotmail will also eliminate that company's emails currently residing in your inbox.)

"Despite the drastic decrease of true spam in the inbox, we found that most customers are still seeing newsletters, product offers and other clutter," Dick Craddock, group program manager for Hotmail, wrote in an Oct. 3 posting on The Windows Blog. "In fact, 75 percent of email identified as spam by our customers actually turns out to be unwanted graymail that they receive as a result of having signed up on a legitimate Website."

Hotmail's other new features include a Schedule Cleanup, which will eliminate email from a specific address after three, 10, 30 or 60 days. A revamped flagging system automatically sorts important messages to the top of the inbox, and Custom Categories offer a way to personalize email sorting.

Over the past few quarters, Microsoft has worked to improve Hotmail on several different fronts. In July, the company announced new security features designed to track down compromised user accounts and make passwords more secure, along with making it easier for users to reclaim their compromised accounts.

Microsoft's "all in" cloud strategy has placed it on a head-on collision course with Google. In addition to Hotmail, Microsoft's other consumer and business cloud services continue to battle the search-engine giant on several fronts, including search (Bing vs. Google's core search franchise) and productivity (Office 365 vs. Google Apps).

Of course, the cloud comes with its own unique issues. Microsoft has wrestled with some outages for its cloud services over the past few months, including a significant one on the night of Sept. 8 that managed to knock out Hotmail, SkyDrive and other Live properties for a few hours.

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