17 December 2008

Hotmail Face Lift Hideous

The latest face lift and format change of the free e-mail service Hotmail, apparently now rebranded as "Qwest Mail" is really hideous. The user interface is far more clunky and there doesn't appear to be any way to revert it to its previously functional and simple self. No communication I've received about the transition, which suddenly appeared, points out any convincing reason that the change is good.

I suppose that free loaders can't be choosers, but I still am not convinced that deliberately taking a decent product and making it an inferior product ever makes good business sense, despite the fact that companies like Microsoft have set a precedent for this practice. This certainly creates negative goodwill for telecommunications company Qwest.

More informative ranting on the evils of Microsoft and on the evils of this particular numskulled transition in particular can be found here.

Customer feedback at a Microsoft blog where the change was announced is furious! (As noted by PC World magazine and other industry publications, which also noted Microsoft's typical unsympathetic and defiant response. Another example of the negative feedback can be found here. My dear wife's account was forced through the transition before mine, so I've been hearing about the horrible quality of the new version for weeks now.)

Shane O'Neill sums up the situation when he writes:

Microsoft has Vista-esque user dissatisfaction on its hands with the new Windows Live Hotmail. . . . why did it come to this? With the Windows Live Hotmail redesign, did Microsoft bring an unprepared upgrade to the public too soon, as it has been accused of doing with Windows Vista?

A comment at another magazine/blog was rather more livid:

Mike Sh**witz is the Devil! Only a spawn of Satan would stick a pitchfork on million of formerly loyal MS fans.

In typical quality control free, inflict beta test versions on the masses Microsoft tradition, the first two weeks of the new version produced "several thousand comments," "several bugs," and "five updates to the code."

The principal people whose names are attached to and are taking responsiblity for this dreadful fubar are "Ellie Powers, program manager, Windows Live Hotmail" (aka Ellie Powers-Boyle), who apparently took the post as of December 3, 2008 (she is a 26 year old M.I.T. grad who has been a developer on the e-mail side since August 2004 with the company), and "Mike Schackwitz, Lead program manager, Windows Live Hotmail." It isn't entirely clear if this is a change personnel in the same post, or whether they are different members of the same team at Microsoft. We can hope that Schackwitz (photo here) was fired for incompetence, but I suspect that isn't likely.

A May 2007 story at CNET News provides some backstory and explains that Microsoft already tried to make the transition it is making now and abandoned it the first time because so many users hated it, despite the fact that the development team was horribly demoralized by this turn of events. Apparently, the dike was only briefly plugged, however. The new public face of hotmail appears to be one of those previously demoralized developers. According to her in a July 2007 interview, she described the project as "having a brief to "rip everything out and start from scratch"," and went on to explain that most people actually liked the new version (contrary to all the real world feedback that I have seen).

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