As I and many other members of the DMA’s Email Marketing Council have said, the frequent reports about email’s demise as a platform are simply misguided. Despite the rise of social media and the likes of Google Wave and Facebook Mail going for its crown, email as we know it is here to stay.

But don’t take my word for it. Look at Microsoft, who recently said as much with the launch of their new version of the Hotmail email client, offering a range of new features and functionality that takes the inbox to the next level.

A quick look in dotMailer’s email marketing client usage tool shows that Hotmail ranks as the number one webmail client for B2C users in the UK, so it’s good to see that Microsoft is taking steps to make the experience richer and more fully developed.

Tackling the personal and professional in one place

One of the most notable upgrades in the new version of Hotmail is the focus on making the system more organised. Information overload is a big problem in any inbox, with numerous viral messages from friends, ‘add’ requests from Facebook and new follower messages from Twitter providing a near constant and yet often distracting stream of inbox noise.

The ability to filter these messages quickly and easily into a separate channel rather than cluttering up a work inbox is a welcome inclusion. It’s one that shows how Hotmail is tackling both the increasing sophistication of email as a tool and also the increasing need for users to tackle both personal and professional matters in one place, quickly and easily.

For marketers, this is surely a positive move. Too often I suspect that marketing emails are simply deleted because they have arrived in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, by segmenting these messages into different streams, users can read and digest marketing messages at a time that suits them – which can only make the emails resonant more effectively.

Throwing down the gauntlet to be relevant

Another new addition that is incredibly pertinent for email marketers is Hotmail’s mailing list “sweeping” feature. This gives users a quick and easy way to purge their inbox of all messages – past and future – from a sender. This really raises the stakes for email marketers.

While it might be an unpleasant pill to swallow, our industry has always featured in a “survival of the fittest” scenario. If other email clients follow suit, then there’ll be nowhere to hide for unsolicited and ill-targeted spam. And quite rightly so!

Welcome changes in rendering capabilities

Elsewhere, it’s interesting to see Microsoft increasing the gap in richness between Outlook and its web-based sibling with the ability in the new version of Hotmail to open Microsoft Office documents straight from the client, or run slide shows when there are multiple images attached.

Considering Outlook 2007 currently only allows HTML3 standards, perhaps this is a sign of things to come for the platform as development continues.

But while Hotmail has the rapidly encroaching Gmail to compete with, Outlook is sitting far more safely as the enterprise client of choice. Although, as the Cloud becomes a way of life, I might expect this to change.

Of course, for email marketers, this variety and lack of uniformity amongst different clients (even within the same software house!) is yet another headache. However, the solution is straightforward; performing email client rendering checks before sending and using segmentation tools to ensure users can specify which client they use. This will at least make it easier to ensure recipients get the full firework show you want them to experience – and the one they’ll be expecting.

No native apps across the board

As for Microsoft’s decision to stick by their web app and not create native apps for Android or iPhone OS products, this is an attitude we can relate to and Hotmail is in good company with Google taking a similar approach.

So overall an interesting and varied bunch of updates from Hotmail, which just underlines for me, more than ever, two key issues. Firstly, that email is not dying and, with powerful technology providers like Microsoft driving innovations, won’t be any time soon.

Secondly, on the flip side, with so much change happening so frequently, email marketers and the ESPs they use will have to work hard to stay up to date with these dynamics.

I’ve always argued that email marketing isn’t rocket science, but that it does need careful and specialist attention. This update makes that issue all the more clear.

Email is dead! Long live Email!