What was for many their first introduction to the world of free, cloud-based email back in the 90s, Hotmail, has breathed its last breath, as Microsoft has replaced the free email service with the spiffy new Outlook.com.
The preview of the cloud-based email service, is already live and available to those with existing Microsoft accounts (@hotmail.com, @live.com, @msn email addresses). Of course, new users can also sign up for an account as well.
For current users, email to those previous accounts will automatically be redirected to their Outlook.com inbox. The first feature, if one can call it that, is a cleaner interface. As part of this, and something we particularly appreciated, Microsoft has minimised the distracting ads that previously cluttered one’s view.
However, a new name and a better appearance is not all that Outlook.com is bringing to the table, as this makeover is more than skin-deep.
The service further offers users the ability to open and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files “with full fidelity” within their inbox. Additionally, documents and photos can also be shared with others using SkyDrive, without having to rely on attachments.
The address book within Outlook.com also has some welcome new tricks up its sleeve, as it shows contacts’ status updates from social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Additionally, Skype integration within one’s Outlook.com contacts is further expected to be offered in the near future.
Wham, bam, goodbye spam
However, since email became popular, so has the annoying, irritating and time consuming plague that is spam. The company asserts though, that Outlook.com boasts “the best spam protection in the industry” to deal with the problem.
According to Chris Jones, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Windows Live, 50% of the email in a typical inbox consists of newsletters and another 20% gets swallowed up by social network updates. This, he explained, is part of the reason our inboxes are overloaded and we often feel it's a chore to "do email."
He elaborated that Outlook.com automatically sorts your messages from contacts, newsletters, shipping updates, and social updates, while the Sweep feature enables users to move, delete and set up rules in a few, clicks.
Additionally, Jones commented that email was no longer constrained to the browser, but rather represented 20% of the time people spent on smartphones, and was used extensively on tablets as well as PCs. To this end, he added, Outlook.com was designed “cloud first”, which meant that all of its users mail would always be available wherever they are.
To the point
In many respects, Outlook.com is a worthy adjunct to the newly announced Office 2013. We may bow our heads for a moment in remembrance of our first introduction to free email and to honour Hotmail’s demise; but its successor appears to be a considerably more advanced, dare we say, evolved answer to online email.
Now the question is: with Outlook.com, can Microsoft lure Gmail users to its offering instead? We shall see.
In the meantime, for a brief introduction to Outlook.com’s features, and a fuller walk-through of the service, cast your eyes on the duo of videos below.