Microsoft has made yet another big announcement, this time shaking up the world of email with the launch of Outlook.com, a new email service for web, mobile and desktop that fuses together the best of Outlook and Hotmail.
In the past months we’ve had Windows 8, Surface tablets and a whole new cloud-based Office experience announced by Microsoft, and now it’s email’s turn for an upgrade.
Outlook.com is Microsoft’s new approach to web mail that will seamlessly integrate with its new Outlook products, the new Office suite, and more. The new service is now available to Hotmail users (who can continue to use their @hotmail.com email address if they wish) and new users, and can be synced via Exchange ActiveSync or POP3.
Eventually, Hotmail will be wholly converted to Outlook.com but, for now, users are being given the option to switch over.
Best of two worlds
With Outlook.com, Microsoft is clearly trying to claw back the users it has lost to Gmail, which is hot on the tail of Hotmail and, if you take Google’s word for it, recently overtook the long-time front-runner as the world’s most popular mail service. The unique services offered by Google’s mail client – such as integration with Google Docs and other Google products, all in a clean, clear interface – have helped Gmail to grow and grow, while for some Hotmail remains the mail client they signed up for with a silly username back when they first discovered email.
The Outlook desktop application and webmail service, however, are widely used by businesspeople across the world, and Outlook.com will take the best of this service and layer it over Hotmail with a new Metro-style design.
Outlook.com comes with plenty of key features that will prove tempting to email users new and old, such as integration of contacts from social media plus the ability to interact with these contacts via these services in Outlook.com. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ are all integrated, with Skype soon to follow.
This brings a social context to email, populating your address book with friends’ images and social network feeds, and addressing the fact that much personal communication now happens on these networks.
Another common issue with email is the fact that users now receive so much, with social updates, newsletters and special offers all crowding their inboxes. Tools that have been available on Hotmail are more streamlined with Outlook.com, so the service can identify different types of email, cutting the wheat from the chaff, and let users move or delete blocks of email in a few clicks.
Or taps, as the case may be, as Outlook.com is also optimised for use on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets with an interface designed to work smoothly with touch controls.
Users will also be able to send files as SkyDrive uploads instead of worrying about attachment limits, and files received can be opened and edited within Outlook.com via web apps for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
While borrowing this idea from Gmail, one thing Microsoft has promised not to do with Outlook.com is to use private email content to target advertising at users. That’s not to say there aren’t going to be any ads on Outlook.com, there will. But they are rather subdued and will only appear in certain sections, and never alongside users’ personal conversations.
Mail for the next billion
Six hours after launching, Outlook.com had already breached the 1m mark, and Microsoft sees the service as ‘modern email for the next billion mailboxes’, so clearly there’s no shortage of ambition. Feedback on the preview has been positive, though, and Outlook.com is certainly one to watch.