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Hotmail update lets you surf inside of e-mails

Hotmail has a new trick up its sleeve that lets you interact with the contents of HTML e-mails. Microsoft says it will be a big time saver.

Hotmail logo

Hotmail is rolling out a new platform this morning called Active Views that lets users surf through certain Web sites from inside of e-mail messages.

But it's not just any message where this functionality is enabled. Instead, Microsoft has partnered with specific companies as part of the launch to give users a way to do common tasks like searching and account management. Some of the first ones on that list are Orbitz and Monster.com, with Netflix and LinkedIn soon to follow.

When a Hotmail user gets an e-mail from one of these companies, they'll be able to use parts of that site from right inside the message. For something like Orbitz, the change means users who get something like a travel sale alert, could then do a search for a trip, and have the results page load up within the message frame. Previously this would have jettisoned users out of Hotmail and into another tab or window.

In a post on Microsoft's Windows Team Blog announcing the feature, Hotmail Group Program Manager Dick Craddock said this functionality is aimed at making HTML-based e-mails less static, and had not been added in the past due to security concerns. "There has simply been no way to run JavaScript code within e-mail messages in such a way that it's isolated and not allowed to do malicious things on your computer," Craddock said.

The way the company has gotten around the security issue has been to create a white list of senders that can run code inside of messages, as well as partnering with e-mail service providers like Responsys to make sure Active Views-enabled messages move past spam filters.

Yahoo and Google have offered similar special treatment to senders in their Web mail services. Google less so, simply by flagging e-mails from senders like PayPal and eBay to help users determine real e-mails from phishing schemes. Yahoo, however, has had a program running for the past year and a half that puts some application functionality inside of Yahoo Mail, so that users don't need to leave the in-box experience to take care of some everyday tasks.

Microsoft says Active Views is being introduced as part of a pilot with just a handful of companies, but it will eventually open it up to anyone. Below is a demo video of how it works: