Last night I got an invitation to beta-test the next incarnation of Hotmail, and I've taken advantage of it. Sort of. The invitation got sent (at random, I assume) to an old Hotmail account which I use for anything that might potentially result in my in-box being clogged with spam. I used to check this account because important mail would occasionally go there, but these days I only check it out of habit and I don't use it for anything but signing up for stuff. Primarily I use Google's Gmail.
As I said, I agreed to be a beta-tester, which (in this particular case) equates to being an early-adopter of a new service which already works. They're just looking to stress-test their servers and see if we can think of anything else Hotmail should do. The verdict? I don't like it. But then, I don't like Hotmail. Its pages are full of advertising, it takes forever to load, and the new version is murder on dialup connections (they're probably working on that, though). On the plus side, it has a lot of really nice features like actual, genuine drag-and-drop support and multiple select with the Shift and Ctrl keys.
I just don't care, though. I like the fact that Gmail loads so much faster than Hotmail. I like the fact that I can toggle the ads on and off (not that I've ever turned them back on). I like that Gmail manages its cookies well, as opposed to Hotmail which sometimes asks me to re-enter my password for no reason at all. I love the fact that I have such a ridiculous amount of storage space at my disposal that I will (in theory) never have to delete a message again. I actually do use Shift and Ctrl on my PC when I'm moving files around, but I've already learned to proficiently manipulate my e-mail with checkboxes and drop-down menus.
Hotmail's improvements are all good ideas, but it's like expanding a condemned building: they're embellishing a system which should really be redesigned from the ground up.
On the other hand, Gmail's entire service is still in beta-test, and Hotmail at least has the semi-permanence of existence through advertising revenue. Even if Google revoked Gmail without warning (which is not likely to happen), what would I be losing? A few order confirmations from Amazon.com, and some livejournal comments I failed to respond to in 2004. Meh.
Anyway, you need to be invited to Gmail before you can set up an account, and I've got plenty of invitations if anybody wants one.