Microsoft is retiring a brand that has been with it since 1997 - free web-based email service Hotmail - and folding it in under the familiar name 'Outlook'.
Hotmail was one of the earliest popular web mail services, but in its time it has had to face off competition from Yahoo, AOL, and, of course, Google's Gmail. What this looks like is an attempt to consolidate its consumer and workplace brands - Hotmail was once an all powerful force on the web, and while there are still many active users, Redmond is aiming for the simplistic approach in Windows 8 and will want to bring both brands in under one name.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft's stated goal is to bring in a product refresh for a brand that hasn't seen change in years. Redmond wants to tie it in closer to other Microsoft services - a la the Google and Apple models - thereby introducing a central point for contacts, email, and non-Microsoft services like Facebook and Twitter.
The Outlook.com update features an address book that brings in contacts from third party services such as Gmail, Facebook, and LinkedIn. As with Google, Microsoft plans to include a cloud storage service which will tie in with Outlook.com.
As the WSJ points out, Microsoft appears to have taken a direct shot at Google - promising that it wouldn't show ads that fit with email content that the company has previously called "creepy".
Clearly riding the coattails of the privacy concerns surrounding Google and other web services, it said "we think privacy matters".
Hotmail will still work for now, but users will be given the option to transfer to Outlook.com, keeping their current usernames. Email sent to Hotmail accounts will be automatically forwarded to Outlook.com. Eventually, Microsoft wants to move all Hotmail users to the 'new' service.
It all looks like an effort to push a unified, simplified feel for Windows 8 and the Metro interface, going along with the consumerisation of IT trend.