You don't much hear about Hotmail, or, well, email as a whole much anymore -- unless, of course, there's some kind of virus running rampant. That being said, even news on that particular front is pretty quiet. The fact is, email is largely ubiquitous, so much so, it's pretty much become an invisible technology. Everyone who wants it has one and it's now no longer such a big deal. Email is certainly not the big story it was when Google launched Gmail, and the subsequent increased storage responses from Yahoo and Hotmail.
That's why, when the post about Hotmail's "Instant Email" upgrade hit my inbox, it felt like stepping out of Doc Brown's DeLorean after arriving back to 2007. The post details how Microsoft's developers streamlined the Hotmail service, making it 10 times faster that it was before:
We trimmed content on our pages to speed up download time, and we eliminated a network round trip on login for further gains. But our goal was to make Hotmail feel instant, and we knew that speeding up downloads would only get us so far towards that goal. Even with today’s broadband speeds, the network is the bottleneck, and we needed to keep our customers from experiencing that latency.
The approach we decided to take was to get user data closer to the browser, and when the data is not available on the browser, get it there more efficiently, without the user noticing. We also decided to take advantage of modern browsers like Internet Explorer 9 to be more app-like, by doing more work in the browser and less on the server.
To speed up Hotmail's process, the developers focused on three areas, caching, preloading, and asynchronous operations. While the post provides detailed explanations, simply put, by caching and preloading content, the user has a shorter wait when working in the Hotmail environment. Preloading downloads more content to Hotmail's cache storage, so when the user accesses a page and/or document, the load time is decreased.
And, according to their reports, the difference was significant:
Dec 2010 - 3.3 seconds
June 2011 - 0.18 seconds
Dec 2010 - 3.1 seconds
June 2011 - 0.14 seconds
Compose new message
Dec 2010 - 4.3 seconds
June 2011 - 0.20 seconds
There's also side-by-side comparison video, which leads this post.
The WebProNews Test Drive
In order to test the more-efficient service, an account was created and tested. The streamlined Hotmail is indeed fast, but since there hasn't been a Hotmail account associated with this author for sometime now, the memories of Hotmail's old performance have faded. That being said, the client performs as reported, that is, it's efficient and the wait times are not noticeable. There was something that stood out, however. Apparently, new accounts have to fill out a captcha field before being allowed to send an email. Hotmail indicates this is done to fight spam, but such a step seems overwrought:
Also, the "Send" button, as well as the other action buttons, could be a little bit more prominent. Currently, these actions are executed by clicking a text link at the top and/or bottom of the email. The thing is, the text navigation is almost subdued. With that in mind, Hotmail's "instant email" improvements work like they say they do, and the service is indeed quick with its responses.
Is it enough to make me switch clients? No, but the improvements should be acknowledged.