Microsoft kills Hotmail and introduces Outlook.com: A look at the new features
Hotmail’s dramatic redesign brings it kicking and screaming into the present, which is long overdue, as the service has been in need of new features and a fresh coat of paint for some time now. The rebranding of Hotmail to ‘Outlook.com’, combined with Metro UI styling, sees Microsoft continue to unify their products around a single design concept, one that has received a lot of positive feedback ever since its debut on Windows 7 smartphones two years ago.
Let’s look at some of new features and services coming soon to Outlook.com:
Outlook.com has effectively been built on top of the Hotmail service that preceded it, but you’d never know it thanks to the new Metro UI redesign. Clean lines, block colours and plenty of contextual menus help to hide the complexities of the software behind a simple user interface.
If you are a Windows Phone user you’ll feel right at home with the new design, as will future Windows 8 users once the desktop operating system hits the shelves later this year. Outlook.com is very similar to Gmail in regards to its design and layout, but the Metro styling offers enough to differentiate Outlook.com from Google’s email client.
Outlook.com offers a lot of the standard features of modern email clients, such as threaded messages, which intelligently group together all emails from a given conversation into an single easy to manage thread. This has been a major missing feature that draws a lot of users away from Hotmail in favour of Google’s thread-based Gmail offering. Finally that has been rectified.
Office 365 Integration
Baked-in support for online document viewing and editing is finally available, thanks to integration with Office 365, Microsoft’s suite of web apps including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Now you can view and modify documents right from within the email that the document was attached to. Again, bringing Outlook.com up to parity with Google Docs.
SkyDrive also joins the party, allowing users to store large email attachments within their SkyDrive storage, rather than embedding large files directly into the emails themselves. With 7GB of storage as standard, this is the most generous free cloud storage available to date, trumping Google and Apple’s 5GB offerings provided by Google Drive and iCloud respectively.
Facebook Chat and Windows Live Messenger Support
Just like Google Talk in Gmail, Outlook.com allows you to chat to your Windows Live Messenger contacts, and even your Facebook friends, from within your email inbox thanks to a dedicated right-hand chat panel. It’s no surprise to see Facebook chat within Outlook considering Microsoft has a strategic investment in the world’s largest social network.
Integrated Skype Calling
Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype in 2011 also makes it possible for Outlook.com to integrate Skype audio and video calling support right into the chat panel. You can start a call or video conversation simply by pressing the corresponding buttons within the conversation. Currently this feature is not yet available in the preview, but is expected to be available by the time Outlook.com actually launches publicly.
New Email Address Scramble
One unfortunate issue with this new Outlook branding is the first-come, first-served availability of new ‘@outlook.com’ email addresses. Instead of simply assigning corresponding email addresses to existing Hotmail users, you’ll have to secure your new email handles manually. Owning firstname.lastname@example.org does not entitle you to email@example.com, which means unless you were super quick, chances are your preferred Outlook email address has already been taken.
No IMAP Support
Sadly Outlook.com lacks IMAP support, which will no doubt dissapoint many users who prefer IMAP over traditional POP3 support. For those who wish to sync their mail between a desktop client and Outlook.com, it looks like you’ll need to be a little more patient.
All in all the new Outlook.com service is a very serious contender to Gmail. The clean design and attention to detail make it a tempting choice, however it falls at the final hurdle due to a lack of IMAP support. Apart from that it is a very impressive take on the modern web-based email client. Microsoft are really polishing the Metro style and it shows.
Over 1 million people reserved @outloook.com email addresses in the hours after Microsoft announced Outlook.com. This sounds very promising for the service, however many of those initial sign-ups are likely due to people scrambling for the good email addresses before they get snapped up.
Those who already use Hotmail will likely applaud the changes and many who may have been planning a jump to Gmail will likely stay where they are now. Will these changes tempt many people away from Google’s long established email client? Probably not, but if Microsoft keeps up the good work, then maybe, just maybe, this could change.
Unifying the Microsoft Experience
You have to hand it to Microsoft, they have managed to dominate tech headlines over the past few months with an unprecedented number of hardware, software and cloud service announcements in the run up to their highly anticipated release of Windows 8 later this year. With a few months left before Windows 8 hits the shelves, Microsoft show no signs of slowing down as they prepare to take on Apple and Google for a larger share of the cloud computing market. One that is destined to shape the fate of the company over the years to come.
As Microsoft readies its new desktop, tablet and smartphone operating systems, it makes sense to prepare their cloud offerings for the big change in Windows design language. The question is, can this newly inspired Microsoft stand up to the competition? So far, the future looks bright.
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