Microsoft suddenly did something quite simple and it’s ridiculously helpful

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Too often, we accept the imperfections of a piece of technology and simply tolerate them.

It’s a little like the way we accept some work colleagues.

Yes, they may get on our nerves once or twice, but they perform a significant — and often thankless — role, one for which it would be hard to find anyone less annoying.

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Which brings me, quite naturally, to the subject of the day: Microsoft.

I can’t deny that, on occasion, I’ve tolerated Microsoft’s presence because some of its wares perform mundane tasks just well enough. Consider Word and PowerPoint, for example.

And then there’s Hotmail.

Yes, I signed up for a Hotmail account at a very early age — or, rather, at a very early stage of the internet’s hegemony. And I’ve stuck with it because I like my email address and the Hotmail service, now known as Outlook, has rarely gone down cataclysmically.

Flunking the junk test

There have been periods, however, when the prevalence of junk mail has charged through my tolerance levels. 

One of those periods was very recent. I suddenly began to get junk mail that didn’t just appear in my junk mail folder, but splattered itself all over my Inbox.

The more I marked it as phishing, the more it reappeared like a self-multiplying cockroach.

Of course, email services seem so low on tech companies’ priority list that there’s no point complaining. One accepts and one deals.

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One issue with my Hotmail is that, sometimes, legitimate emails are forcibly wafted into my Junk Mail folder. This means I regularly check that folder just to see if someone meaningful has attempted to communicate — or whether a PR person has attempted to seduce me with: “World First. An AI powered by another AI.

That’s the thing about Junk Mail folders. They take work. You’re not just trying to identify legitimate emails, you’re also facing ever-craftier scammers.

Sometimes, you have to open a specific email just to make sure that it’s evil. The easiest method, it seems to me, is to just look at the sender’s email address and it’ll likely be a twisted concoction, nothing to do with the claimed sender’s name or company.

This is all irritatingly time-consuming.

A stroke of internal genius

But someone at Microsoft — could it even have been an intern? — had a marvelous thought.

Suddenly, my Junk Mail folder has a different look. In the “From” column is not only the name of the (alleged) sender, but also enough of the email address for me to see whether the email is legitimate or not.

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This has happened only over the last week or so, but it’s caused my concerned morning brow to curve happily toward the heavens every time I go to that folder.

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Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/ZDNET

Now, instead of wondering, even if momentarily, whether Netflix support has urgently contacted me, I can instantly see the email has come from the email address “siobhan_macguigan_75545@technologi.”

And even if I momentarily wondered why Angie’s List is contacting me, I can now immediately see the alleged Angie’s email address is “[email protected].”

It’s not nothing

It’s easy to dismiss such a change as trivial.

Personally, however, I’ve found this absurdly helpful and even spirit-lifting.

All too often, those behind tech products don’t always think them through before launching. They don’t always consider the true points of irritation once a product is launched. Sometimes, products only get tested by internal tech company humans, rather than real, ordinary people in the outside world.

And so many products, once launched, are left to merely make money and achieve minimum viable ends.

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Yet here is quite the opposite. Someone took a little time to make a tiny change to achieve a considerable improvement — and on a product that many use the most, yet consider the most mundane of all.

I contacted Microsoft to ask whether this was, in fact, a new idea and to inquire whose were the brains behind it.

A Microsoft spokesperson was happy I’d asked, but would only divulge: “Yes, this is a new feature released this month that’s designed to make it easier for users to identify unwanted emails. It’s part of a broader initiative to help users better manage spam emails.”

I still want to believe that a lifelong Hotmail-loving intern was behind it.

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