Microsoft yesterday launched the new email portal Outlook.com and the tubes on the Internet have been buzzing about it every since. One of the interesting aspects is it is not a standalone service that is entirely new, but can be used right away by users of Hotmail or Windows Live. New users who never bothered with Hotmail before can however head over to the new Outlook portal to register a new @outlook.com account there.
Before we look at what Outlook.com is offering, I’d like to spend a moment talking about migrating from Hotmail to the new email portal. When you are signed into Hotmail, you can switch to Outlook by clicking on Options > Upgrade to Outlook.com. When you do, you are automatically taken to the new Outlook portal. Rest assured, that you can go back to Hotmail from there should you dislike what you see.
The new Outlook.com
When you load the interface for the first time you will notice that is is different from Hotmail in almost every aspect. It begins with a top nav bar that is always there, linking to various email related options like replying, deleting or using the services’ sweep feature. Here you also find the settings, integration of social networking features and links to the user profile.
The left sidebar displays mail folders and aliases, and an interesting quick views listing which is a filter of sorts that makes available email types, for instance those that include document attachments, photos, or shipping information.
The main area is by default divided into two panes, with the upper pane listing the messages of the selected folder, and the lower pane the currently selected message. On the right finally are information about people that you are communicating with. This works best when you have integrated at least one social networking service into Outlook. When you do, you may see the latest activity of the user on those social networking sites which may be very helpful at times.
If you have played around with Windows 8′s mail app you may have noticed that it looks a lot like the mail interface of Outlook.com (especially if you switch from the horizontal to the vertical pane view mode. The big difference here is the new social pane that we have already mentioned in the review.
Hotmail users who came to love some of the service’s tools will be glad that they have all been migrated to the new Outlook service. Outlook.com uses the same spam filter that is powering Hotmail, and you get access to the previously mentioned Sweep feature, automatic newsletter unsubscribe options and more.
One question that we have not addresses yet is about the why. Why is Microsoft launching Outlook.com as an email service when they have Hotmail for the very same purpose? The short answer is because it will replace Hotmail at some time in the future. For now, it runs side by side to give Hotmail and new users ample time to try and test the new service. Eventually, Microsoft will migrate all existing Hotmail users over to Outlook.com to provide everyone with a unified experience.
Hotmail is not a horrible service, but it had a reputation for being somewhat old fashioned and not as hip as Gmail. With Outlook.com, the cards are dealt anew and it is very likely that many users who did not even want to try Hotmail out will try the new Outlook service.
It is rare when you only see praise and only little criticism when it comes to new products or services that Microsoft launches. If this is anything to go by, the new Outlook seems to have become an instant hit on the Internet with users rushing to the service to grab their firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
Judging from the little time that I used the service, I have to admit that it is an excellent service already. While I’m not a fan of social media sites per-se, I like the fact that you can get information about mail recipients and senders right from within the site without having to leave it.