Microsoft released plans Tuesday to revamp its free email service Hotmail — still the world's (if not America's) most popular — to compete with Google's surging Gmail. Plagued by perceptions that it's out-of-date and swamped with spam, the service admittedly lacks features people crave, says Microsoft vice president Chris Jones. The makeover, scheduled to go live this summer, offers a new array of functions, letting users manage their inbox more deftly (clicking "Sweep" to vamoose spam) and viewing videos within an email, for example. But will it be enough to re-crown Hotmail king of U.S. email? (Watch a video preview of "the new Hotmail")

Hotmail is actually hot again: On many fronts, "the new Hotmail beats Gmail hands down," says Preston Gralla in Business Week. It has better "social network integration," allows users "to view embedded media content" right in their inbox, and is "easily the most elegant-looking of any Web-based mail service." Gmail's still "excellent," but "if you've never used Hotmail before, or swore off it in the past, now is the time to take a new look."
"Microsoft's Hotmail email gets a makeover"

Since when was regurgitating ideas a good thing? "At this point," says Ashlee Vance in The New York Times, "Microsoft must have developed its own seminar for employees called something like Apologizing With Optimism: How to Persuade People to Give You Another Try." With this update, the tech giant has simply "managed to copy its peers" — no way to convince people "that Microsoft is hip."
"A cooler Hotmail?"

Hotmail will give Gmail a run for its money: Most of Hotmail's new Gmail-clone features aren't "groundbreaking," it's true, says Stan Schroeder in Mashable, but I can't help but "give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt." Sure, "it'll be hard to steal users away from Gmail — which still has dozens of minor features that Hotmail doesn’t." But the solid functionality of this "complete overhaul" makes Hotmail "a worthy competitor."
"Microsoft reinvents Hotmail with an onslaught of new features"