Members of Microsoft's Hotmail web-based mail service were greeted this morning with a new-look home page as the company rolled out a series of upgrades. This included a new user interface, as well as more signs of integration with Microsoft's much-ballyhooed .Net initiative.

When the upgrade went live today, users of the service could immediately see that Microsoft's MSN internet division had altered the look of Hotmail for the first time in three years. The updated service adds newer internet applications including MSN Explorer, the web browser bundled with the subscription-based MSN Internet Service.

"This is a pretty significant change for Hotmail," said Rebecca Thompson, a product manager at MSN. "Consumers will definitely notice the difference." They certainly will – the MSN logo is now far more prominent and the Hotmail brand has almost disappeared from view. The page now looks similar to Microsoft's Outlook program.

The newly designed site includes a beefed-up junk-mail filter to weed out unsolicited (spam) email, quick links to frequently used contacts, an email template similar to that of Microsoft's Outlook email application, and the addition of Swedish and Dutch to its list of 12 supported languages.

Links to MSN Messenger and MSN Calendar are built into the new user interface and instant messenger contacts, or buddy lists, show up on the Hotmail home page.

Hotmail users currently don't pay to use the service, a trend Chris Le Tocq, analyst with Guernsey, said will gradually change as the company attempts to 'add value' with extra services. This industry phrase basically means giving you things you didn’t realise you wanted and charging you for them, while keeping costs for the maker low. In other words, making profit from marginal increases in functionality.

For example, Microsoft may start charging users a subscription fee in return for increased storage for their email account. This would be similar to Yahoo's webmail service. Hotmail members currently get 2MB of storage for free, and could potentially pay for an increase, Le Tocq said. Other fee-based services are likely to come as Microsoft introduces more services based on its .Net 'strategy'.

"As far as adding subscription services, MSN in general is looking at the business model," Thompson said. "We don't have anything in this upgrade, but it is something that we're looking forward to." Telling words.

The upgrade was originally scheduled to take place on Tuesday, but Microsoft delayed this and told journalists to expect the launch on Wednesday morning. However, at the end of Wednesday, the upgrade had still not taken place.

Late on Wednesday a company spokesman said Microsoft was looking into the unscheduled delay and the reason behind it had not yet been identified.