Microsoft's Hotmail, one of the most popular free e-mail services on the Web, crashed overnight, with consequences ranging from mild inconvenience to high anxiety for millions of users.
For several hours, users logging on to their e-mail accounts got a message that said, "You don't have an inbox ... yet." People were invited to create new accounts, even if they had been Hotmail users for years.
Microsoft posted a message of explanation on Windows Live Help its customer service site:
"Hotmail and Windows Live ID experienced a service disruption starting at 8:44 PM (PST), which ended at 10:15 PM (PST), and during this disruption you may have been told your inbox did not exist. This was incorrect messaging. Your inbox, contacts and Live ID are all intact. We're all Hotmail customers, so we appreciate how frustrating this experience was. Thanks for your understanding. If you're still getting errors, please close out all browsers and sign in again."
The Windows Live tech team, on its blog, posted more reassurance:
"Rest assured that your inbox is safe!" it said.
"The incorrect message was sent out, caused by a networking issue that we encountered while doing routine maintenance."
This morning, many people posting to message boards said their Hotmail accounts were working again. But Techcrunch, the popular technology blog, said it was still getting online complaints.
"It's after midnight in California at the time of this writing, so according to Microsoft the service disruption should have stopped over 2 hours ago," wrote Robin Wauters of Techcrunch. "The problem is that most of the tips we received came in after that time (and keep on coming), so the issue doesn't seem to have been resolved completely, provided of course the tipsters have effectively tried to restart their browsers."
Calls and e-mails to Microsoft were not immediately returned.