10 August 2012


Microsoft have just announced a new web-based email client – Outlook.com – which will eventually be the replacement for Hotmail.  It hasn’t been released yet, but you can start using the preview now. 

You might be using Outlook on your computer now – but this isn’t the same thing.  You’ve got a desktop application, whereas Outlook.com is web-based – just like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo etc.  Actually the web-based version is also called Outlook, but I'm going to call it Outlook.com in this post to save confusion with the desktop version.

One of the problems with using a desktop application for your email is that it is only available on your computer, or by accessing your ISP’s website.  With web-based email you can access your messages anywhere you have an internet connection – that means on your smartphone or tablet, as well as your computer.  It’s this accessibility that has seen an explosion in the use of web-based email. 

So, what’s so special about Outlook.com?  Firstly it’s very clean and unfussy.  There’s the usual features you expect from email – being able to set up folders, label your messages, search for messages, etc., as well as some features that Hotmail has – the ability to automatically delete, file or forward certain kinds of messages as they arrive.

There’s also some great new features:  the ability to customise actions, and set up rules for managing your emails, and menu options that change depending upon the current task.  You also get free Word, Excel, and PowerPoint web apps included, with 7 GB of free cloud storage, which means you can open attached Office files in your browser, even if you don’t have Office installed on that device.

The biggest difference between Outlook.com and other email services is the integration with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – if you decide you want it to – and you control who gets to see what.  You’ll be able to receive Facebook messages and Twitter tweets in your inbox, and have photos, videos, status updates and instant chat accessible from the one screen.  If you receive an email from, or are emailing, a friend, Outlook will import their most recent tweets and Facebook updates, along with links to their profile pages.  You can even like, comment, retweet and reply, all from the one screen.  Also coming soon is built-in Skype.

This video gives you an idea of how the integration with Facebook works...

There’s virtually unlimited storage for your email messages, and less spam. There are some ads, but they’re very discreetly lined up on the right of the screen, and you probably won’t even notice them. If you still like your desktop Outlook, you can keep using it as well. The newly announced Outlook 2013 will integrate with Outlook.com using Microsoft’s Skydrive cloud service to sync the two. If you’re using Outlook.com over multiple devices, of course your messages and calendar will be automatically synced.

If you’re currently using Hotmail, nothing is going to change yet – unless you want it to. You can use your current Hotmail address indefinitely, but you will eventually be moved over from Hotmail to Outlook.com. However, if you’d like to switch over now you can. Existing Hotmail users can upgrade to the Outlook.com preview by clicking “Upgrade” on the options menu of Hotmail. Your e-mail address, contacts and old e-mail will remain the same and you can still use the e-mail and messaging platforms at hotmail.com, msn.com and live.com.

If you are interested in using Outlook.com or just grabbing an @outlook.com e-mail address in case of future use, then visit Outlook.com to sign-up. If you already have a Microsoft Live login you can use this to access Outlook.com, or you can sign up to get a new @outlook.com email address. You don't have to have an @outlook.com email address to use it - once you’ve logged in you’ll be asked if you want to add any other email account to Outlook.com – Gmail, Yahoo, any ISP-based accounts – Bigpond, Optus etc - you can use Outlook.com to access any email account.   If you’re adding a Gmail account you’ll need to set up forwarding in Gmail as well. You can also import all your contacts from Gmail, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Once it’s set up on your computer you can start using it on your phone or tablet, but for the moment you’ll need to access it via your browser. The separate mobile apps aren’t ready just yet, but it will be available for Windows Phone, iPhone, and Android.

I’ve used Outlook on my computer for managing all my personal and business email accounts for years and hadn’t planned on changing. However, I am really impressed with Outlook.com and, with a few things bugging me when using Outlook 2010 on my laptop, I think I might try a switch to Outlook.com for a while.  I’ll definitely be switching to it for email on my phone.

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