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What’s the Difference Between Hotmail.com, Msn.com, Live.com and Now Outlook.com?

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Is there no longer a hotmail.com? I am so confused. I sign into hotmail and it automatically sends me to outlook.com. It would not take my old password, so I had to change it. But, there is nothing in the account. How do you retrieve information that was in hotmail.com. This is crazy!!How can I get my messages from my old account or is this really something that has happened. Is there no longer a MSN hotmail.com? or is this a joke of some kind.

It’s no joke.

Microsoft continues a long history of confusing the heck out of us with the names they choose for their services, and then changing those names as they go along.

Outlook.com is what we once knew as Hotmail, which was also called “MSN Hotmail” and was also “Windows Live Hotmail”. That’s relatively easy, albeit confusing. But there’s more to it than that.

For the record: none of this involves losing any email. That’s something else entirely.

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Hotmail begat MSN Hotmail begat Windows Live Hotmail

The email service we typically refer to as Hotmail was originally called … Hotmail.

More correctly, it was called HoTMaiL — note the capitalization — a bizarre kind of reverse acronym mash-up referencing HTML mail. The moniker “Hotmail” is what stuck.

After purchasing Hotmail, Microsoft integrated it with their burgeoning line of on-line services, and branded them all with “MSN” – the MicroSoft Network. Thus, what we used to call “Hotmail” was technically renamed as “MSN Hotmail”. Most people kept on calling it “Hotmail”. At the same time, MSN Hotmail was integrated, or at least associated, with a number of other MSN branded services, like Instant Messenger, the MSN.com homepage, and more.

HotmailThen Microsoft decided to de-emphasize “MSN”, and replaced it with the “Windows Live” brand. Hotmail, (known as “MSN Hotmail”) was renamed “Windows Live Hotmail”. At the same time, Microsoft allowed people to create email addresses not only on hotmail.com, but live.com, msn.com, and a few other Microsoft-owned domains as well.

While the email service remained “Hotmail” in name, the domains that appeared in your browser’s address bar went through even more changes. Hotmail.com takes you to URLs based on msn.com, live.com, and others (and for a while passport.com — Microsoft’s original attempt to use your Microsoft email address as “one account for everything”).

Hotmail became MSN Hotmail which then became Windows Live Hotmail. Same service, just three different names over time.

And then things changed again.

Everything begat Outlook.com

The most recent and massive change was Microsoft’s switch to Outlook.com as a brand to completely replace Hotmail.com and any other free email services they provided.

What was once Hotmail, by any of its previous names, is now Outlook.com.

Outlook.com is the service you now use to access your hotmail.com email, or, for that matter, almost any Microsoft email address, including live.com, webtv.com, msn.com, and probably many others, not to mention outlook.com itself. New email addresses are available only as outlook.com email addresses.

Important: Outlook.com and the Outlook email program (which comes with Microsoft Office) are two different and unrelated things. One — Outlook.com — is an online email service, and the other — Microsoft Office Outlook — is an email program you install on your PC. Microsoft seems to remain committed to giving things exceptionally confusing names.

Missing Email?

If you’re missing email, there’s something else going on. None of the name changes above should result in any lost email, period. It’s just a name (and user interface) change.

Unfortunately, I do hear of missing Outlook.com email from time to time, not necessarily in conjunction with a name change. Here’s what I’ve seen as a cause:

  • Temporary failures: You may not get a message at all, but check in again in, say, 24 hours. Your email may magically have reappeared.
  • Silent account hacks: There are account compromises where the hacker doesn’t change your password, so you can still log in, but they do wreak havoc on your account. Change your password — and everything else that might be used to recover your password — immediately.
  • Traditional account hack: You indicated you had to reset your password to regain access to your account. This feels very much like a situation where a hacker has gotten into your account, changed your password, and deleted your email.

It might make sense to visit the Outlook.com support forums to see if others are experiencing the same problems, or to post your own experience with the hope of getting some help.

Ultimately, however, I do have to fall back on my standard position regarding free email accounts: if your email disappears, I believe it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever get it back.

I hope you had it backed up somewhere.

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21 comments on “What’s the Difference Between Hotmail.com, Msn.com, Live.com and Now Outlook.com?”

  1. What is causing drop down menu’s to open when I am typing a reply to email’s etc. The iritating thing is when the delete drops down and my complete message is lost. It happens also if I am using microsoft word. There is no set pattern, it just happens. Of course will writing this note, nothing is happening.

  2. @Jerry: I would suspect that you have a problem with your keyboard — perhaps the Alt (or some other) key sticking. If possible, try a different keyboard. If the problem persists, you have some software (virus??) that’s causing you grief. Nonetheless, eliminate the hardware possibility first. Good luck.

  3. I have had all kinds of problems with my email account also for the past week or two I couldn’t sign in to my msn or Hotmail every thing was out of sync. I called 1-800-386-5550 msn customer service & couldn’t get past all the prompts they have, I tried their on line ass. & got a tech. that wanted $38.00 to work on my problem. All bad very bad.It will be a big problem for me to change especially where i’m a paying customer for my email account, but I’m trying to get away from these email accounts & use another companies.

  4. It seems like that new account hack is very common with MSN and Yahoo mail. Unfortunately as these attacks are a bit more common we might see them snowball more and more and render the major freemails useless eventually. Pay a little bit for an account where you can solve your problem by phone if necessary.

  5. Interesting, but they are not necessarily the same. I have a hotmail account and a msn account. They are separate mail accounts and I have to log on to each to get my mail.

  6. It sounds more like the writer hasn’t signed in to his/her account for a long period thus having the account suspended and everything deleted.

  7. Moral of the story??? Very big IS bad !! Giants do what they feel like doing. (Most products out of Microsoft are poor copies of things previously offered elsewhere.) Don’t feed the beast. Support the alternatives. Use another eMail service!! (In fact, the same applies to other areas. See what big banks did to the economy? I have moved all my business to small banks.)

  8. Wow what a mess. I have my own Domain on a wi fi system at a park in Texas that I use outlook express on. Neither of these are accepted by MSN, or windows 7.

  9. Leo,
    I have an involved question. About a year ago I changed to a Mac and in addition to my “me” account I still have my MSN account. I have had nothing but trouble with the MSN account and want to change everything to the ME account. I purchased many apps with the msn id and fear that I am going to lose them if I switch. I also have a hotmail account. Do you have any suggestions?

  10. I’ve used (and continue to use) Hotmail for over a decade, watching the plethora of changes over the years. Hotmail is just one of several email accounts I use, depending on the scenario.
    Although I can sync up all of my email addresses to one program (POP Peeper) and get everything delivered to my desktop, whenever I go to my Hotmail email address manually, I have to click on a couple of different dropdown menus just to see my mail.
    I think MS has done this as an underhanded way of getting people with free Hotmail accounts to purchase their premium service, or even just migrate over to Outlook.com.
    I’ve come to expect this type of abhorrent behavior from MS, which is why I backed up my Hotmail account years ago and only use it sporadically now.

    • I wouldn’t call it underhanded. Many, if not most companies which offer free services do it for promotional purposes and often try to up-sell you to a premium paid-for service. They are not trying to migrate you to Outlook.com. They’ve already migrated all Hotmail, Live.com and MSN.com accounts to Outlook.com. Your Hotmail address remains the same but it is actually an Outlook.com account.

  11. Just to correct one error in the article – New email addresses are available only as outlook.com email addresses.

    The drop-down list at account creation gives two choices – outlook.com and hotmail.com

    • Interesting. My belief, then, is that this may change based on criteria I can only guess at. I’ve seen it not be present, as well as (long ago) containing a much longer list of domains that included “live.com” as well as “msn.com”.

  12. I do not know if I already have a Microsoft account and if I do, how do I get it and get the password?
    Sorry, just want access to my account.

    • The email address you listed with this article is a Hotmail address. That is your Microsoft account and your email password is the password to your Microsoft account.

    • A hotmail.com account IS a Microsoft account. (As is a outlook.com, live.com, msn.com, webtv.com, and a bunch of other email addresses provided by Microsoft).

  13. Hi Leo, I upgraded my pic, and now my @msn.com email is one I cannot work with.
    Is there a way to go back to the old email format?
    Thank you

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