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Microsoft revamps Hotmail as

Microsoft has unveiled a revamped version of its email service in a fresh attempt to compete with Google's fast-growing Gmail.

The world's largest software company is renaming its Hotmail service Outlook, giving it a sharp new look, social network links and new features for handling the tide of junk and mass mail that swamps many users.

Hotmail was still the world's largest online mail service as of June, according to the latest available comScore figures, with 324 million users, or about 36 per cent of the global market.

However, it is losing customers to Google's Gmail, the fastest-growing rival, which now has about 31 per cent of the market. Yahoo Mail is static with about 32 per cent.

In a bid to recapture growth, Microsoft is renaming the service Outlook, a name familiar to most corporate workers who use Microsoft's Office email application, and sprucing up the whole experience.

Hotmail users will be prompted to switch over to the new service over the next few months.

Hotmail, launched in 1996, was one of the first online email services, but it has not been updated by Microsoft for eight years.

"A lot has changed in the last eight years, and we think it's time for a fresh look at email," Chris Jones, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Windows Live, said in a blog post.

The new look is clean and uncluttered, featuring lots of white space, reminiscent of Google's recent makeover of Gmail.

Relatively unobtrusive advertisements appear in a column to the right of the screen when looking at folders.

They do not appear when a message is open.

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