Microsoft's Hotmail has blossomed into a Web 2.0 service after going through an 11-year ugly duckling phase.
The transformation has changed MSN Hotmail into Windows Live Hotmail.
The company calls today's public relaunch of its free email service "the most significant upgrade" since its inception in 1996.
The web-based client now more closely emulates its software cousin Microsoft Outlook, with drag-and-drop capabilities, preview pane customization and auto-complete addressing. A built-in Windows Live Messenger and a more robust spam blocker have also been added. The service's capacity has been boosted to 2GB of email storage.
A paid version, Windows Live Hotmail Plus, is available for $19.99 a year and allows 4GB storage and other POP3 email accounts into the service.
Hotmail's much-needed makeover puts it in line with email service offerings from Google and Yahoo!.
Microsoft said the Windows Live Hotmail's beta stage had over 20 million users.
Later this month Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007 customers will be able to access their Windows Live Hotmail email and contacts for free, using a beta of Microsoft Office Outlook Connector.
Current Hotmail users must upgrade their accounts before they can use the new service. Contacts and saved information can be transferred into the new interface.
You can take a gander at it it here. (Registration is required, but you knew that already.) ®