The birth of Hotmail, the email that wanted to be free and free

Year 1996. In Spain, the internet is something that sounds esoteric. An exclusive technology for a few at exorbitant prices. However, that year two illustrious seekers were born made in Spain , ¡Olé! and Ozú . In the United States, where the network of networks was born, the great ones of the internet are AOL , online service provider, the search engine Yahoo! , the portal to make your own page Geocities , which will end up being bought by Yahoo! or the browser portal Netscape . That is precisely the most popular browser on the market. Although the previous year saw the light of the first version of Internet Explorer . Also in 1996, Google will take its first steps. But at that time there are more important search engines like AltaVista , Webcrawler or Infoseek . And soon, Hotmail.com, Hotmail’s webmail would arrive.

In 1996 a lot happened. The internet was accessed from the telephone line , the copper pair. If someone called on the phone, the connection was cut off. The bills were high. I repeat it again for the record. According to some statistics, in December 1995 there were about 16 million Internet users worldwide. 0.4% of the population. But already in December 1998 we would exceed 147 million. Everything has always gone very fast on the internet . Today there are more than 5,000 million Internet users. More than 65% of the world population.

And to finish with 1996. That year will be very important in the lives of Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith . Their names are not very well known today, but they are the creators of Hotmail or Hotmail.com, a free email service. Such was its success that the following year Microsoft bought it for 450 million dollars at the time and integrated it into its online ecosystem MSN (The MicroSoft Network) , which he had launched at the end of August 1995. His goal: to overshadow the online giant AOL . But that’s another story.

An always accessible email

Although E-mail is a means of communication criticized by many , it is still a pillar of the internet . On the one hand, it is still used to send and receive messages in the home and professional environment. According to Statista , last year more than 306.4 billion emails were sent per day. Many are from spam , and many others are mere automatic notifications from your applications and services. But many others are for work or personal, such as Hotmail.com.

But where you see the importance of email is that it is essential to have one for anything that has to do with the internet. To register on any web page or mobile application, to create a user account, they always ask for an email account . It is the electronic equivalent of the telephone number or, at a certain distance, the identity document.

In the internet of the 90s, email was as or more important than now. Mainly because it was the main means of interpersonal communication . With permission from the landline. There were no social networks or SMS. Instant messaging was yet to come: ICQ (November 1996), AOL Instant Messenger (May 1997), MSN Messenger (July 1999). The most similar equivalents were the newsgroups and the Internet Relay Chat or IRC . But they were not nearly as personal and direct as email.

Email was so important that when you hired an internet provider , it offered you as an additional service to the connection itself, your own email account. In Spain, you can still find email addresses such as “telefonica.net”, “wannadoo.es” or “ya.com”. And surely there will be older ones.

Left : Cover of “E-Mail for Dummies” (1997). Right : Announcement of the Eudora mail client on PC Mag , (21 Nov 1995)

Precisely, Hotmail.com was born as alternative to those emails managed by internet providers. The first alternative. The goal of Hotmail was to offer free email, free from ISPs (AOL, CompuServe, EarthLink …) and accessible worldwide . Another aspect to take into account is that to check the mail you needed a specific program that you had to configure previously. Back then it was very popular Eudora .

As for her name, a pun . Or rather, of letters. Hotmail.com arises from HTML, the language in which web pages are written. HTML is the acronym for HyperText Markup Language . And from HTML we have HoTMaiL .

The creators behind Hotmail.com

Behind Hotmail we have Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith . The first, born in India, traveled to the United States to study at the California Institute of Technology, the popular Caltech . After graduating there, he also studied at Stanford.

Professionally, Bhatia worked as a hardware engineer for Apple Computer and was one of the first employees of Firepower Systems , a subsidiary of Canon . For his part, Jack Smith , who had also studied at Stanford, where they apparently met. And both ended up working on the same Firepower Systems . Both Bhatia and Smith coincided working on PowerPC-based workstations for Apple.

Main changes of Hotmail in two years. Original, logo change, second change after Microsoft’s purchase and redesign when integrating into MSN.
Source: : Ars Technica

We don’t know whose idea it was. Some attribute it to Smith. The fact is that both, Bhatia and Smith, created Hotmail.com, a free email accessible from the browser . Without configuring anything, like POP / IMAP mail. A webmail , come on. Free and easy to access. For this they founded their own company, Hotmail, with an initial capital of 300,000 US dollars. Bhatia as President and CEO, Smith as CTO ( Chief Technology Officer ). And as we saw before, things went very well. In a week they already had a million users. The company was founded on July 4, 1996. And in December 1997, a year and a half later, it became part of the Microsoft service catalog.

Jack Smith remained active. To begin with, for a season he was Director of Engineering at Microsoft, first with Hotmail.com and then on more ambitious projects. On his own, he co-founded Akamba Corporation and was its CEO. He also founded Proximex , being also its CEO. Sabeer Bhatia also remained at Microsoft after the purchase of Hotmail. But the following year he created his own e-commerce company, Arzoo . He also created a free mobile messaging service, JaxtrSMS . And we know little else about them today.

Bhatia and Smith knew how to satisfy a need with an ideal solution, Hotmail.com. Then Microsoft would come to make it more popular, if possible. Moreover, the following year its main rival would be born, RocketMail , which would end up being Yahoo! Mail . And the rest came alone. What would be of Gmail or current Outlook without having previously existed Hotmail?