Reported by: Robert Klien
Microsoft re-branding Hotmail to new Outlook.com may be a real gamechanger. However, the question remains – can it catch up with Google’s Gmail service?
Since the announcement of Outlook email, over one million people have reportedly signed up in just under six hours.
Chris Jones, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Windows Live says “the personal email service offers the first major improvement to cloud mail in eight years”.
“We think the time is right to reimagine personal email, from the datacenter to the user experience,” he said. “So today we’re introducing a preview of Outlook.com.”
The Outlook email service has cleaner design, fewer ads and makes connections to social media sites easy. In addition, it works fantastic with smartphones, tablets, and the new Outlook 2013 Preview.
Previously, people only knew Microsoft Outlook as a separate desktop application. When Hotmail was first introduced in 1996, it caught on like fire and was an instant hit. After Google’s Gmail entry, everything changed. People loved Gmail for its clean design, large space, efficient spam filters and less ads.
After the acquisition of Hotmail in 1998, Microsoft introduced a slew of changes to make its email service more desirable. Rather than simplifying the email offering, Microsoft went on preserving the option for various login IDs such as Hotmail, Windows Live ID, Xbox Live or Windows Phone and Microsoft.
Henceforth, this user-friendly revamp from Microsoft is a commendable course of action. Presently, while signing into the account, users are greeted with fresh whitish background along with shady bluish bar on the top and grey side bar. Hovering over the top of blue bar next to the Outlook logo brings up a scroll down box which show options like Mail, People, Calendar and SkyDrive.
On the settings, users can manage their account details, email forwarding, POP, rename email address, junk mail filters, privacy settings, language, keyboard shortcuts and can even set where they want the reading pane to appear. Dont like the default blue color? That’s alright, just pick your favourite color to show.
Clicking on the circled plus icon brings the ‘compose’ option to send mails. All other basic features such as text formatting, managing folders, saving draft, etc are intact on Outlook.
Altogether, the new Outlook email service is a likable experience. It is easy to navigate, view friends’ Facebook updates and Tweets in inbox, keep all contact information in sync and import contacts from other services such as Gmail.
While Outlook still in beta version, we can expect Microsoft to roll out a host of more new features to enhance the email experience. Have to admit, it might still require a great deal of time and effort for Microsoft to outshine Gmail which is extremely popular with all the goodies and extra features it has to offer.
For instance, Gmail popularised the inbuilt chat through which communication was made faster, easier and more efficient. Users can even make video calls and connect with friends in Google Circles. Not that Outlook doesn’t. In fact Outlook goes one step ahead by giving users the benefit of instant messaging friends over Facebook Chat.
Meanwhile, casting shadow over Microsoft’s new venture, Dan Keldsen, principal analyst at Information Architected said, “It’s puzzling because it’s been 16 years since Hotmail was introduced and this is the first real change that Microsoft has done with it.”
“The laundry list that I’ve seen of what’s supposed to be included there in Outlook.com appears to all be catch-up to Gmail, to Google Drive, to Yahoo’s web services and to Apple’s Mobile Me and Apple’s iCloud,” he added.
Nevertheless, the revamping of Microsoft’s Hotmail with clean interface, integration of social media services, among others is still a far-reaching move.
“Email is becoming less and less useful as inboxes become cluttered with newslettersand social updates, and people increasingly keep up their personal connections in social networks instead of their email address books,” notes Microsoft vice-president Chris Jones.
“Building on our past work with Exchange and Hotmail, we provide an inbox with virtually unlimited storage, industry leading spam protection, and rock solid account protection powered by your Microsoft account. Outlook.com also works great with the Outlook desktop application, and as you’d expect from a personal email service, it’s free,” he wrote on the official Microsoft blog.
Explaining on the features, Jones writes: “In the Outlook.com inbox, your personal email comes alive with photos of your friends, recent status updates and Tweets that your friend has shared with you, the ability to chat and video call – all powered by an always up-to-date contact list that is connected to your social networks.”
Further, Outlook.com automatically sorts messages from contacts, newsletters, shipping updates, and social updates, and includes free Office Web Apps – Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote – which enables users view and edit attachments without leaving the inbox.
“We realized that we needed to take a bold step, break from the past and build you a brand new service from the ground up,” declares Jones.
Now, what about users already registered on Hotmail? They can choose to either have their email with Hotmail domain or even upgrade to the Outlook.com preview. Hotmail still commands over 370 million users.
Google’s Gmail with over 425 million accounts might be top among free email providers. Outlook’s entry into the email fray with pizazz could disquiet the other big players. The contest sure gets more interesting. We just have to wait and watch to see who walks away with the top honors.