Outlook vs Hotmail: Understanding Microsoft’s Email Services

Outlook vs Hotmail

Outlook and Hotmail are two of Microsoft’s most well-known email services. But over the years, Microsoft has rebranded and changed these services so much that it’s easy to get confused about exactly what Outlook and Hotmail are and how they differ.

This in-depth blog post will clarify what Outlook and Hotmail are today, trace how they evolved from their beginnings in the 1990s to now, and compare their features and usage in detail.

Key Differences

Outlook (Service)Hotmail (Service)Outlook (App)
TypeWeb-based email serviceWeb-based email service (now merged into Outlook.com)Email client software
Main UseSending and receiving emails onlineSending and receiving emails online (now via Outlook.com)Managing multiple email accounts and personal information
Email Domain@outlook.com (new users)@hotmail.com (legacy users)N/A – works with any email account
PlatformsWeb, iOS, AndroidWeb, iOS, AndroidWindows, Mac, Web, iOS, Android

The History of Outlook

Outlook is the longtime name of Microsoft’s personal information manager software that is bundled into Microsoft Office suites.

The first version, Microsoft Outlook, was released in 1992 for Windows 3.1. It was a graphical user interface (GUI) client that could connect to Microsoft Mail servers on a local area network.

Over the years, Outlook was updated with new versions for Windows 95, Windows 98, and Office 97. Outlook 97 became the first version to integrate email, calendar, task manager, contact manager, and web browsing into one program.

Outlook 2000 brought more features like:

  • Integrated Exchange 2000 support for Microsoft Exchange Server
  • Web storage of emails via Exchange server
  • Web calendaring
  • Web contact management
  • Web support for tasks
  • Native support for Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration server

In Office XP, Outlook 2002 gained junk email filtering and the ability to block spam emails.

The 2007 version introduced visual changes, faster searching, improved security, and information rights management. It also had integrated RSS support and improved Microsoft SharePoint integration.

Key improvements in Outlook 2010 included conversation view, online archive search, and CORS support for AJAX development.

Outlook 2013 focused on integration with SharePoint, OneDrive, and Office Web Apps. The user interface was also updated with a metro design using ribbons and menus inspired by Office for Windows 8.

In Outlook 2016, Skype for Business presence and messaging was integrated directly into Outlook. @mentions were added, as well as support for online file storage on OneDrive and integration with other Office 365 apps.

The latest 2019 version redesigned the user experience with personalized visuals, faster load times, simplified ribbon, and new themes. It also added more advanced security protections.

So in summary, Outlook the app evolved from a standalone email client in the 1990s to a sophisticated personal information manager integrating email, contacts, calendar, files, and communication tools by the 2010s, with deep integration into Microsoft’s ecosystem of Office suites, Exchange Servers, SharePoint, OneDrive, and Office 365.

A Brief History of Hotmail

Hotmail, on the other hand, started as one of the early pioneers of free web-based email in the 1990s.

Hotmail was founded by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith and launched on July 4, 1996. The “Hot” in Hotmail stood for “HTML” (HyperText Markup Language), the coding language used to create web pages. 

The service gained immense popularity as one of the first free email services accessible from any web browser.

In December 1997, Microsoft acquired Hotmail for $400 million, integrating it into the MSN group of Internet services. Microsoft soon added features like spam filters, increased storage, POP3 access, and mobile access to Hotmail.

By 2004, Hotmail had over 140 million active users. But the popularity of other competing free email services like Gmail and Yahoo Mail challenged Hotmail’s market share going into the late 2000s.

In 2005, Microsoft announced the Windows Live brand, a new suite of online services planned to complement Windows. As part of this rebranding, Microsoft rebranded Hotmail as Windows Live Hotmail. 

But after beta testing showed confusion among users, Microsoft backtracked on transitioning away from the Hotmail brand.

By 2009, Microsoft changed directions again based on the market dominance of Gmail and other competitors. They began a long-term plan to revamp Hotmail.

In 2012, Microsoft announced that as part of retiring the Windows Live branding, Hotmail would be transitioned over to a new service called Outlook.com. 

This new service would replace Hotmail and introduce a new interface and improved features.

The rebrand from Hotmail to Outlook.com took place in 2013. Microsoft did keep @hotmail.com email addresses active, but new users could only sign up for @outlook.com addresses moving forward.

Outlook.com vs Hotmail in 2023

In 2023, Outlook.com and Hotmail essentially provide the same Microsoft web-based email service. The differences are:

  • Branding: Outlook.com is the current brand name, while Hotmail branding is being phased out
  • Email domains: New users sign up for @outlook.com addresses, while legacy users keep @hotmail.com addresses
  • Default interface: Outlook.com provides the default interface, which is faster and more modern
  • Feature parity: Both share the same features now, but Outlook.com had additional improvements when introduced to replace Hotmail

So Outlook.com is the new brand and interface for Microsoft’s free webmail service. But behind the scenes, Hotmail and Outlook.com accounts share the same infrastructure. Hotmail as its own distinct service is now discontinued.

Outlook Desktop App vs Outlook Web App

Besides the Outlook.com webmail service, there is also Outlook the desktop app. This is where it gets confusing!

The Outlook desktop app is a personal information manager for Windows and Mac that can connect to different email accounts, including Outlook.com/Hotmail accounts. But the Outlook desktop app is a completely separate program from the Outlook.com webmail service.

Microsoft also offers access to Outlook.com accounts through a web interface called Outlook on the web (formerly known as Outlook Web App). This allows you to access Outlook.com emails through a web browser without needing the standalone Outlook desktop app.

To summarize:

  • Outlook desktop app – Email client for Windows/Mac to manage multiple email accounts
  • Outlook.com – Microsoft’s free webmail service to access @outlook.com/@hotmail.com accounts
  • Outlook on the web – Web interface to access Outlook.com accounts without desktop app

The Outlook desktop app can connect to Outlook.com accounts, alongside accounts from other providers like Gmail. But the Outlook desktop app and Outlook.com webmail service are completely separate applications and systems.

Key Features of Outlook vs Hotmail

Now that we’ve established what Outlook and Hotmail are in 2023, let’s directly compare their key features and capabilities as online email services:

Email Domains

  • Outlook.com – @outlook.com for new users
  • Hotmail – @hotmail.com for legacy users

As mentioned earlier, these two domains are interchangeable on the same email system now. You can sign in with a @hotmail.com address on Outlook.com. But only @outlook.com addresses can be newly created.

Interface Design

  • Outlook.com – Simplified design similar to Windows 8/10, faster performance
  • Hotmail – More traditional panel and menu designs, slower performance

The Outlook.com rebranding in 2013 was accompanied by a redesigned interface optimized for speed and a modern look and feel. The old Hotmail interface felt outdated and cluttered in comparison.

Email Features

  • Integrated calendar
  • Contacts lists
  • Aliases
  • Disposable email addresses
  • Fetching from other accounts
  • Custom domains
  • Mail forwarding
  • Automatic sorting into folders like Social Updates, Newsletters
  • Sweep feature to manage storage
  • Automatic filtering of spam/phishing emails
  • Email and attachment encryption
  • Email limits up to 50MB
  • Storage unlimited

Outlook.com and Hotmail have feature parity when it comes to standard email functionality like the above. The capabilities are identical today. Outlook.com did introduce improvements to filtering, organization, and encryption when it replaced Hotmail in 2013.

Integration and Add-Ons

  • Outlook.com – Tighter integration with OneDrive, Office Online, and Skype
  • Hotmail – More limited integration capabilities

Outlook.com better leverages Microsoft’s broader product ecosystem. For example, you can edit Office documents from directly within Outlook without needing desktop Office apps. And Skype video calling can be launched through Outlook. Hotmail had less tight integration.


  • Outlook.com – Advanced protection against spam, phishing, and malware
  • Hotmail – More vulnerable to spam emails and scams

Security is a key advantage of Outlook.com compared to Hotmail. Outlook.com does a better job identifying and quarantining suspect emails to prevent phishing attacks, scams, and viruses.


  • Themes
  • Email templates
  • Automatic replies
  • Email forwarding/automatic CC/BCC
  • Folder organization
  • Swiping gestures on mobile

Outlook.com and Hotmail offer all the standard account customization options like above. You can tailor your account settings and preferences similarly on both services.


  • Outlook.com – Unlimited storage
  • Hotmail – Originally 2GB, upgraded to unlimited eventually

Both Outlook.com and Hotmail today offer unlimited storage for emails and attachments. Outlook.com always provided unlimited storage, while Hotmail started with a 2GB limit originally before also upgrading to unlimited capacity.

Apps and Device Support

  • Native apps for iOS and Android
  • Tablet optimization
  • Browser access from any device

Outlook.com and Hotmail both have native mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, allowing you to manage your email on the go. Their mobile web interfaces are also fully optimized for smartphones and tablets. Plus you can access your email from any laptop or desktop computer through the full browser interface.


  • Outlook.com – No display ads
  • Hotmail – Banner ads at the top and bottom of the inbox

Outlook.com does not show any display ads in the user interface. Hotmail had annoying banner ads on the top and bottom of the inbox interface. This creates a cleaner experience on Outlook.com.

Outlook.com vs Gmail

How does Microsoft’s Outlook.com compare to Google’s Gmail when it comes to features and usage? Here is a quick rundown:

  • Both provide free web-based email services.
  • Gmail offers 15GB of free storage, compared to unlimited storage on Outlook.com.
  • Outlook.com does not scan emails for personalized ads the way Gmail does.
  • Gmail’s search and filtering capabilities are more robust while Outlook.com is simpler.
  • Outlook.com’s tight integration with Microsoft products like OneDrive could be beneficial for some users.
  • Outlook.com offers aliases and disposable email addresses, which Gmail does not have.
  • Gmail is accessed through the Gmail web interface or mobile apps. Outlook.com can be accessed via Outlook on the web, Outlook mobile app, or Outlook desktop app.
  • Gmail is compatible with more third-party email clients while Outlook.com works better with Microsoft email apps.

So in summary, Gmail has some advantages around better search and filtering, as well as larger storage. But Outlook.com offers deeper integration with other Microsoft services, aliases, and no email scanning. It comes down to user preference for features.


This outlines the complete picture regarding the history, evolution, and current state of Outlook vs Hotmail:

  • Outlook is the longstanding personal information manager software included in Microsoft Office suites, with deep integration of email, contacts, calendars, and more.
  • Hotmail pioneered free web-based email in the 1990s, then was acquired by Microsoft and rebranded as Windows Live Hotmail in the 2000s.
  • As part of retiring the Windows Live brand, Microsoft transitioned Hotmail to Outlook.com in 2013, introducing a faster interface and new features.
  • Outlook.com and Hotmail today provide the same Microsoft email service. Outlook.com is the new brand name while Hotmail still works behind the scenes.
  • The Outlook desktop app can connect to Outlook.com/Hotmail accounts, but is separate from the web-based Outlook.com service.
  • Outlook.com has advantages over Hotmail in areas like interface design, speed, security protections, integration with the Microsoft ecosystem, and eliminating advertisements.

So in 2023, Outlook is Microsoft’s desktop email client while Outlook.com is Microsoft’s web-based email service. Hotmail still technically exists to service legacy Hotmail users, but Outlook.com is the official service going forward.

Hopefully, this detailed guide clears up the connections and differences between Outlook and Hotmail once and for all!

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Saiful Emon

Emon is a tech enthusiast who loves to explore and write about the latest gadgets and innovations. Now he uses his passion and knowledge to cover topics like artificial intelligence, gaming, wearables, and the potential of computers. When he is not writing, he enjoys playing video games, watching sci-fi movies, and discovering new places.