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Symantec Intelligence

Reflections on the fifteen year anniversary of Hotmail

Created: 04 Jul 2011 • Updated: 04 Jul 2011
Paul Wood's picture
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Today – Monday 4th July – is notable not just because it is Independence Day in the US, but also because it marks another important anniversary for the technology industry in particular. Fifteen years ago, on 4th July 1996, entrepreneurs Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith officially launched the first free web-based email system Hotmail, choosing the day deliberately to symbolise freedom from ISP-based email. In 1997, Microsoft acquired Hotmail for an estimated $400m and turned it into the world’s largest web-based email service with over 350 million users operating in 36 different languages.

The mass adoption of Hotmail, and subsequently rival web-based email tools such as Gmail and Yahoo! Mail, is significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, over a number of years it has successfully transformed email from a largely professional, ‘grown up’ tool, into a free, mainstream, consumer-friendly way of communicating, accessible to, and enthusiastically used by the full spectrum of ages and demographics. In the fifteen years since Hotmail was launched, email – either via mobile device or PC – has become one of the most ubiquitous forms of communication on the planet with an estimated 300 billion sent every day.

However, Hotmail’s fifteenth birthday must surely also be considered one of the most important milestones in the development of cloud services – the purview of our business at Although it certainly wasn’t labelled a ‘cloud service’ at the time, Hotmail embodies important attributes that make cloud services so appealing today. It is accessible from anywhere in the world, on any device, at any time of the day or night. It’s available to users on pay-as-you-go basis, with an option to scale up depending on your requirements. Finally, it doesn’t clog up your desktop, but is instantly available via a web’s story has similar characteristics. Set up in 2000 as MessageLabs, the first company in the world to offer email scanning as a cloud based service, our business was, and remains, firmly focused on protecting customers from cybercrime with a flexible, scalable, instantly accessible service that operates in the cloud. All email, web and IM traffic is scanned in the cloud and the bad stuff is filtered out before it reaches our customer’s network.

Fast forward fifteen years, and ‘cloud’ has exploded into one of the industry’s hottest trends. CIOs, IT managers, business leaders, employees, even consumers are talking about it, debating it and adopting it on a daily basis. Successful cloud services today – like Hotmail back in 1996 – allow everyone to use and benefit from technology on their own terms, and transform some of the most traditionally inaccessible activities into something simple for the end customer.

At Symantec we continue to be excited by the opportunities that cloud services present for all of our customers. In March, we announced service enhancements that will bring more of our market leading technologies into the cloud, in addition to increasing our number of cloud service-related data centres globally to 15. Appetite for those cloud services is exemplified by a 16 per cent year on year growth in customers from 9.2 million end users to 10.7 million in February 2011. Fifteen years on and the cloud bandwagon continues to gather momentum.