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.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
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.
Then 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.
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.
If you found this article helpful you'll love Confident Computing! My weekly email newsletter is full of articles that help you solve problems, stay safe, and increase your confidence with technology.
Subscribe now, and I'll see you there soon,