Hotmail has been synonymous with the Internet for as long as I can remember but despite maintaining over 325 million monthly active users, the end of an era is near. Microsoft has decided to ditch the Hotmail brand in favor of something that doesn't carry quite the negative stigma: Outlook. Yes, the same Outlook that has been a staple of Office products for years will now be used to brand the free email service.

Windows Live general manager Brian Hall told VentureBeat that Hotmail simply had a bad reputation and that many people didn't feel comfortable having their name associated with the service. On the other hand, however, Outlook has a much better reputation as mail from Microsoft and thus the new branding was born.

The new Hotmail, er, Outlook will keep many of the features that people are familiar with but the service will have an all-new look. Hall described it as a clean, fresh, modern design and further proclaimed it to be the cleanest email service available today.

Existing Hotmail users can elect to keep the same extension or convert over to an address but all users will be migrated to the new design regardless of extension.

Microsoft is also integrating Skype into the new Outlook. A video chat button will allow you to initiate a Skype call with a contact even if you don't have the software installed on your computer.

Upgrade options are available right now should you wish to get the process out of the way. Simply log into your Hotmail account, click Options then select Upgrade to from the drop-down menu. Once this is completed, you can go into your mail settings and create your address by selecting Create a Outlook alias.