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Microsoft launches its Hotmail replacement: Outlook.com

Outlook Header LogoAs it continues to prepare for the impending release of Windows 8, Microsoft has launched Outlook.com, a new web-based email service that embraces the name of the company’s well-known desktop email client, and will eventually replace the aging Hotmail.

Previously leaked as Newmail, Outlook.com doesn’t only offer email, as it also incorporates social networking integration, SkyDrive, Office Web Apps and in the future Skype video chat — showing Microsoft wants to challenge Gmail and Google’s suite of online apps.

Hotmail, which Microsoft acquired in the late 90s, is still a major player in the market, boasting the most users compared to its rivals; but its share is decreasing and Google is waiting to pounce.

Little has changed for Hotmail over the years, and Microsoft says it realizes it must “take a bold step, break from the past and build a brand new service from the ground up” if it wants to compete. The result is Outlook.com.

Visually, it’s in keeping with Microsoft’s Metro interface, and anyone familiar with Windows Phone or Windows 8 will feel right at home. Like the recently renovated Gmail, there’s a lot of white space, but Microsoft is keen to point out some key differences between Outlook.com and Gmail, such as the lack of adverts displayed in the conversation window, and how it won’t pass information gained from emails along to advertisers.

Outlook Page View

Social interaction is a big part of Outlook.com too, with the ability to connect to Facebook, LinkedIn and if you search for it, Twitter as well. In the near future, Skype will be added and allow for video chats without leaving the site, while Facebook chat is built-in too. Social updates are delivered by mail, and all your contacts are imported, where they can then be grouped together.

Other features include Microsoft’s spam filter, a “graymail” filter to keep subscribed email content such as shopping site updates and newsletters separate from junk mail, plus unlimited email storage space. Microsoft also says that the clean design shows 30-percent more messages on a single page than other webmail clients.

Finally, Outlook mail can easily be setup on your phone or tablet, and it uses Exchange ActiveSync too.

It’s still early days though, and as Outlook.com is still a “preview” version, not all the promised features have been added, and even those that are don’t all seem to work yet.

Don’t let that put you off though, and if you want to try it, you can sign-up for an Outlook.com email address right now, or if you already have a Hotmail or a Live.com account, it can be upgraded through the settings menu.