By JESSICA MINTZ, AP Technology Writer Wed Aug 15, 4:18 PM ET
SEATTLE - Microsoft Corp. will soon let users of its Hotmail service store 5 gigabytes of photos and other e-mail messages, more than double the previous limit.
Of course, only a small number of Hotmail users will ever approach that threshold, a reality the software maker acknowledged in a blog post this week outlining the storage boost and other upgrades to the free, Web-based service.
"Just when you were wondering how you'd ever fill up 2 or 4 GB of mail, we've given you more storage," wrote Ellie Powers-Boyle, a program manager for Windows Live Hotmail.
Microsoft's new limit, from 2 GB currently, will leapfrog Google Inc.'s nearly 3 GB. Yahoo Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL e-mail services already include unlimited free storage.
Yahoo has the most active users in the United States among Web-based e-mail services, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Hotmail ranks second, followed by AOL at third and Google's Gmail at fourth.
Microsoft said Hotmail will also get faster in coming weeks thanks to performance improvements. E-mail users will also see a new "report phishing" button and a way to combine duplicate contacts in the address book.
When Hotmail users log in, they currently see a page filled with news headlines and photos from Microsoft's MSN sites — not their inbox. Soon, Microsoft will let users choose to go straight to their e-mail and skip the extra content.
"We know this is going to be a big hit with a lot of you out there in blog land," Powers-Boyle wrote.