As of today, Hotmail's free Web-based email users who log out after their session find themselves redirected to Start, which is located at "home.microsoft.com" and at "www.start.com."
Start is Microsoft's comparatively late entry into the feverishly hot portal market. Portals are Web sites that aggregate content and services in an attempt to become Web users' home page and point of reference. The success of Web portals has caused their value to skyrocket on Wall Street in recent months.
The Hotmail redirect to Start is one in a string of moves by Microsoft to gradually ramp up traffic to its Internet portal and integrate the company's various online services. In other recent examples, Microsoft added Hotmail log-on capabilities to Start, and added a Start link to the Microsoft corporate home page.
The Hotmail redirect added today potentially could send millions of users to Start; Hotmail claims to have more than 18 million registered users.
But Microsoft concedes that only a small percentage of Hotmail users actually log out when they finish their session. Microsoft says failure to log out leaves those users open to a security risk if someone gains physical access to their computer, and the company has used Hotmail banners to encourage users to adopt the log-out function.
Microsoft has been keeping a low profile on the gradual rollout of its portal. The company last week quietly launched a beta of the Start site, which it rolled over to the site a few days later.
The next major step for Start is expected to be the addition this quarter of a Microsoft-branded search engine, currently in development in conjunction with Inktomi. The site currently offers a choice of five branded search engines: America Online's AOL Netfind, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, and Yahoo.