What is Outlook.com and how can I use it?

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Last week, July 31st, Microsoft introduced the preview of Outlook.com, a new web based email service that will eventually replace Microsoft’s current offering Windows Live Hotmail. It’s not easy to keep track of all the email offerings that are available out there, in addition to the many offerings from Microsoft, there are also numerous other alternatives from other large players in the market. In this week’s blog article I wanted to shed some light on various email services and tell you more about Outlook.com.

Free email from a range of different providers

If you want to set up an email account you can easily do so, without paying a cent, by picking among a large list of email providers. Perhaps the most well-known ones are Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail, Google’s Gmail, Yahoo mail, Aol mail and Apple’s iCloud email.  In addition to these, there are a number of other email providers that offer email accounts with ample storage available for free. These include, among others, GMX, mail.com and Zoho mail. More and more people have also started to use social networks such as Facebook for email.

Email client offerings from Microsoft

Microsoft offers a wide range of different email services for consumers and businesses as well as numerous email clients. Some email clients are web based where you access your email through a browser, others are rich desktop clients that you install on your PC. The rich clients need an Internet connection to send and receive email, but you can read and write email even if you are offline since these desktop clients save a local copy of your email on your computer. These clients are also richer and faster in functionality, so searching, filtering, spell checking, etc. is quicker since they are not limited to what is possible to do in a browser.  Here is a summary of email clients that are available from Microsoft, some target businesses, others consumers:

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Windows Live Hotmail (web based)Microsoft acquired Hotmail in 1997 and launched it shortly after as MSN Hotmail. Since then there have been numerous updates to the interface. Windows Live Hotmail is targeted at consumers and has over 300 million users worldwide. Now that Microsoft has introduced Outlook.com, users will be encouraged to switch over to the new service (they can still keep their email Live/Hotmail address). [Added note: By summer 2013 Microsoft expects all Hotmail users to be switched over to Outlook.com)

Outlook.com (web based) – Microsoft’s new email service that was introduced last week. The new interface is more professional and the ads are less intrusive.  See more in the next section on what’s new.

Outlook Web App (web based) – Microsoft’s web client for business users which is available to users who have Microsoft Exchange Server (either as a standalone server, hosted, or as part of Microsoft Office 365).

Windows Live Mail (desktop client) – Previously Microsoft offered a desktop client called Outlook Express which was a free, stripped down version of Microsoft Outlook. Outlook Express no longer exists; today the desktop client that is targeted for consumers is called Windows Live Mail. Windows Live Mail is part of Windows Live Essentials which is free if you have a valid license of Windows Vista or Windows 7.

Microsoft Outlook (desktop client) – Microsoft Outlook is Microsoft’s flagship email client, a rich desktop application for professional email management. It is included in most editions of Microsoft Office (except Office Home and Student Edition). In addition to using Microsoft Outlook with email servers such as Exchange Server, you can also use Microsoft Outlook as an email client for your Windows Live Hotmail email account using the Microsoft Office Outlook Hotmail Connector.  

What is new with Outlook.com?

On July 31st 2012, Microsoft announced the preview of Outlook.com, the new email service that will eventually replace Windows Live Hotmail. You can start using the preview today by signing up for a new email account (NameOfChoice@outlook.com), or by using an already existing email account. Here is a quick overview of what’s new:

1. Cleaner interface – Just like the Microsoft Office 2013 Preview, Outlook.com has a cleaner, smoother, “Metro/Windows 8- style” interface. Small, cluttered menus have been replaced by larger, more graphical icons.

2. Less annoying ads – Unlike the ads in Windows Live Hotmail, the ads in Outlook.com are very discrete so they don’t annoy you as much. Only if you hover over them do you see the images of the ads.

3. Integrated with social networks – Outlook.com integrates with social networks like facebook and LinkedIn so you can see status updates, profile pictures and messages from your network contacts all in one place.

4. Integrated with Skype – Though not available in the preview, Outlook.com will be integrated with Skype so that you can communicate with your contacts in real-time using instant messaging, voice- and video calls through Skype.

5. Integrated with SkyDrive and Office Web Apps – Outlook.com is tightly integrated with Office Web Apps and SkyDrive (you can read more about SkyDrive in the blog post What is Microsoft SkyDrive and how can I benefit?) This makes it easier to share documents and pictures without having to send them as huge attachments. In addition to the benefits of reduced email size, the viewing experience of photos in slideshow mode is very appealing.

What’s in it for me?

I recommend that everyone has a personal email address that is separate from your business email address. All communication with friends and family should go via this email account. Personally I have a Windows Live Hotmail account that I use for all personal communication as well as for online purchases and newsletters I sign up for. I use the Microsoft Office Outlook Hotmail Connector and I manage both my personal and businesses email using Microsoft Outlook. Even so, I see a lot of value in the new Outlook.com service. I hardly ever use the Windows Live Hotmail web client, but now, with the new interface and the new functionality of Outlook.com I see myself using it more frequently. In addition to the more professional interface, it also adds a lot of great functionality for sharing pictures, managing email rules and connecting with people on social networks.

(If you have difficulties reading this article, you can access the full article in pdf here).