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Microsoft apologizes after Hotmail bug wipes accounts of e-mail

Microsoft says that it has resolved an issue that affected over 17,000 Hotmail users over the New Year’s weekend. Beginning on December 30, Windows Live Hotmail users began reporting that their inboxes and storage folders were curiously empty of e-mail – with some accounts containing a decade of stored messages. Some users reported receiving a solitary “Welcome to Hotmail” message from Microsoft, as if they had recently created a new account.

Thousands took to Facebook and to the Microsoft support forums seeking answers as to why years’ worth of e-mail had suddenly vanished. On Monday, Microsoft’s Chris Jones, corporate vice president for Windows Live,  acknowledged the issue in a blog post and claimed Microsoft had “restored mail to the impacted accounts” as of the evening of January 2 — some 48 hours after e-mail began disappearing. Microsoft acknowledged that 17,355 Hotmail accounts had been affected.

Jones didn’t elaborate on the cause behind the outage, except to say that it was the result of a “mailbox load balancing between servers.”

“As with all incidents like this, we will fully investigate the cause and will take steps to prevent this from happening again,” Jones said. “We’re very sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused to you, our customers and partners.”

Microsoft claims that Hotmail has over 360 million users, making it the world’s most popular e-mail service. Facing growing competition from Google’s Gmail, Microsoft relaunched Hotmail during the summer of 2010, giving the free e-mail service a redesigned look as well as new features that included better integration with photos and video attachments.