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Hotmail back on track after glitch

update Microsoft says a partial outage of the Web-based e-mail service's servers delayed or prevented some people from logging in to their accounts.

update A server problem prevented many users of Microsoft's Hotmail e-mail service from accessing their accounts for about three hours Friday.

A Microsoft representative said a partial outage of the Web-based e-mail service's servers delayed or prevented some people from logging in to their accounts. By Friday afternoon, the company was able to start restoring parts of the service for some users.

Several CNET News.com readers sent e-mail complaining of being locked out of their accounts and speculated that the Passport authentication system could be to blame. A January Passport glitch prevented some users from checking Hotmail accessed from the site.

Passport is Microsoft's sign-in mechanism that millions of consumers use to access multiple Web sites or services, including Hotmail. A Passport outage would result in more widespread problems.

The Microsoft representative, however, maintained that the outage was related only to Hotmail and not to the greater Passport system.

CNET News.com readers reported receiving differing notices about the problem.

"I have two Hotmail accounts, (and) I normally check them using Outlook XP," said Matthew Kitchin, a network administrator from Nashville, Tenn. But Hotmail "is popping up a message saying my password is wrong. I tried to sign in at Hotmail.com using both accounts. Sometimes I get an error saying the server is unavailable. Other times I get an error on a Passport page saying this page is no longer available."

Some users accessing Hotmail through an online gaming site received this notice: "The Hotmail registration system is currently down for maintenance. We look forward to your registration at Hotmail and serving your e-mail needs. We appreciate your interest and sincerely apologize for the inconvenience."

But other users trying to log on from the Hotmail Web site received a different notice: "We apologize, but your account is temporarily unavailable. This delay does not affect the entire site or relate specifically to your account, but the machine that holds your account information is temporarily unavailable. We do not expect this delay to last much longer, so please continue to check our site for your account status."

Hotmail outages are not rare, but they are not as frequent as a few years ago. Microsoft recently made numerous changes to the free e-mail service in support of its forthcoming .Net Web services strategy.

Microsoft also has been shoring up the service in preparation for additional paid services. The Redmond, Wash.-based company acquired Hotmail in January 1998 for $400 million. It has about 110 million registered users.

Affected Hotmail users reported a variety of different problems Friday, ranging from slow to no access or error messages trying to access the Web site.

Benjamin Bethel, a Hotmail user from Phoenix, Ariz., looked at the outage as minor.

"I've found that these days, Hotmail outages are far and few between," he said. For a free service, I couldn't ask for anything more. I think my electricity at home is less reliable than Hotmail--that's quite an achievement. I'm very pleased with the reliability and accessibility of Hotmail and am even considering paying the $20 annual subscription fee...I'd pay up to $50 a year for Hotmail without blinking an eye."