Microsoft Outlook.com early impressions

August 1st, 2012 | by Alfred Siew
Microsoft Outlook.com early impressions
Internet
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Microsoft has just unveiled Outlook.com, its new Web-based e-mail service that promises a clutter-free interface reminiscent of its Windows 8 and Windows Phone look and feel. Like the company said before, it won’t have targeted ads or a big fat search bar at the top. This is a complete reboot of Hotmail.com aimed squarely at Gmail.

What’s impressive, from a quick hands on since its launch an hour or so ago, is first of all the neat interface. You can imagine people accessing this even from their tablet browsers, despite the fact that they can sync their e-mails on their onboard client via Exchange ActiveSync.

There are several fancy features, for example, linking up friends’ updates over social networks like Facebook and Twitter, which flow like a feed for you to glance at while at work. Question is, will users switch from those social networks, where they may be spending more time than on e-mail?

I don’t know, but what will make them like the new Outlook.com may not be the “connectedness” but something simpler. Here, the interface for typing an e-mail is one of the neatest I’ve seen.

Outlook.com keeps the less important stuff – like subject and e-mail address – on the side while you concentrate on the message. I’ve liked Gmail since I switched from Yahoo four years ago; now Outlook.com actually looks very attractive as an alternative.

Since Microsoft is aiming this Hotmail.com replacement at Google, it has included online storage in the shape of SkyDrive and also collaboration tools that let you view and share popular Office documents easily.

I’ve viewed and edited a couple of Powerpoints and Word files and I can say the formats didn’t run all over the place, as you sometimes can get when previewing with Google Docs. Strangely though, I can’t seem to preview PDFs as with Gmail.

There are rough edge, of course. The other programs, like Calendar, are still stuck in the old, uncool interface. To get back to your e-mail program from there, it still has a Hotmail button.

What about video chats? Microsoft has that in Skype, which it plans to integrate in the new e-mail service. It’s not ready yet, it says, but it will eventually rival Google Talk. How closely the Microsoft experience is integrated remains to be seen but Skype + Outlook is no small fry even when coming up against Gmail.

When it comes to contacts, Microsoft lets you easily add contacts from your other online services. If you want to keep your Google or Yahoo account, simply forward the e-mail to the Outlook.com account. Like other e-mail services, Microsoft will also try to pull contacts from your LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Of course, if you are thinking of signing up for a cool e-mail address, this is the right time to chope your account before others do. If you already have a Live Messenger or Hotmail account, you can also just log in with either account.

Indeed, all the functionality here is what Microsoft should have had much earlier before it lost so many customers to Gmail. Its largely unsuccessful attempt to fight off Google with its previous round of Live services didn’t stop or even slow down Google and it certainly didn’t see Facebook coming along.

Outlook.com comes in a busy year for the company, when it has been showing off Windows 8, the Surface tablet and more recently, Office 15. Now in the fight of its life to maintain its position in the market, it has probably never churned out so much software that actually works this well.

Check out Outlook.com yourself and let us know what you think!

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