Though Google thought they could tear us away from our beloved e-mail accounts last summer with Wave, our convictions remained true. This season Big G's e-mail is back in the spotlight with contextual apps for bringing information directly from the Marketplace to your inbox. Meanwhile, Microsoft apparently got a wild hair up their you-know-what and decided to bring Hotmail back from the dead.

Putting the Hot back in Hotmail

Microsoft is making a big effort to outdo Google on the e-mail front. Currently -- and this may come as a surprise -- Hotmail is used by more people worldwide than Gmail, placing them second in the Web mail circle (Yahoo! is number one, according to Hitwise). Gmail, however, has been coming up fast. 

Hotmail's makeover, which we expect to see go live in either July or August, includes:

  • Auto organization of e-mails into categories such as from contacts, from e-mail lists, from social media services, ones that contain photos, etc. 
  • Better security for gaining access to your account in the event that it gets hijacked
  • Social integration
  • Better multimedia content (like slideshows)
  • The ability to use Office software tools like PowerPoint within e-mail

“Hotmail wasn’t doing the best job it could to serve customers,” said Microsoft vice president Chris Jones. “We were behind on features and we felt like being number (one) in the U.S. market was important for us.”

Is it enough to keep them ahead of Google? Perhaps it would have been last summer, a.k.a The Time When Web Developers Thought Replacing E-mail Was a Good Idea, but this year Google is coming from all angles: 

Contextual Applications 

At this week's Google I/O conference, Big G infused Gmail inboxes with the magic of the Google Marketplace. 

"Starting today, third-party developers can build Gmail contextual gadgets and distribute them in the Google Apps Marketplace," said Chandrashekar Raghavan, the product manager for Google Apps extensions. "These gadgets can display information from social networks, business services, Web applications and other systems, and users can interact with that data right within Gmail." 

Check out this video if you missed our initial discussion about the announcement: 

 

 

Google Waves Again

Wave is back for a second round, and this time it's left its better-than-e-mail attitude at the door.

In addition to dropping the e-mail 2.0 angle, Wave developers claim to have learned three valuable lessons about the platform: 

 

  • Wave shines for groups of people working together
  • As collaboration and Web Engagement grow, Wave's future potential for broader applications grows as well
  • The platform needed to be more obvious about why it was beneficial

"We think we're at a place where Wave is mature enough where real work can get done and you can really see the benefits of doing your work in Wave over existing tools," said Google engineer Lars Rasmussen.

Yeah, yeah. Perhaps part of the problem was that Wave wasn't available to everyone. Kind of strange for a collaboration tool not to be available, right? Problem solved this time 'round--Wave is now a part of Google Apps (Labs).

Pick a Cloud, Any Cloud 

Google and Amazon are going head-to-head this week with new cloud storage options. Google Storage for Developers features: 

  • SSL support
  • Multiple auhentication methods
  • Access controls for sharing with individuals and groups
  • Read-after-wirte data consistency support
  • Web-based interface for storage management

The pricing plan is pay-as-you-go, like Amazon, but Amazon's costs drop at higher rates of usage. Moreover, the company just added a third layer to their S3 environment called Reduced Redundancy Storage. At just $0.10 per gigabyte, the layer is specifically designed to store non-critical, or easily replicated data for cheap.