I bet I'm not the only one out there that wishes they could go back in time and choose a less embarrassing user name for their first email account. If you're like me your first email provider was Hotmail, which remains the dominant email platform to this day.
Hotmail is dead folks, and Microsoft has replaced it with Outlook.com, and now the landgrab is on for slightly more mature email accounts. But with stiff competition from Gmail, and poor public perception of its predecessor, does Outlook.com have what it takes to win your email back?
The Outlook.com experience is based on the Metro style design philosophy (oops, I mean "Windows 8-style UI"). Where Hotmail was full of bubbles and chrome, Outlook.com is unapologetically minimal. The design is refreshing and important because it makes getting to the folders and settings you want much easier than with Hotmail.
The screen is split into three panels. The left panel has your folders and inbox, the spacious middle section has email content, and the right panel has a contextually aware display bar which shows you information on the sender and allows you to search for them on Bing.
A nice touch to this info bar is it scrapes Twitter and Facebook for public photos of the sender, which it assigns to the contact as a thumbnail - helping remove all those blank avatars. You can also directly post updates to either service directly from Outlook.com.
Following in the footsteps of Google, Microsoft has added an instant messaging function built directly into Outlook.com. The IM feature isn't limited to chatting with other Outlook.com users though, you can get in touch with your Facebook friends from this console too.
It will be interesting to see if in the future Microsoft adds support for Skype, like it does with its unified communications tool Lync in Office 365.
It's hard for me to imagine ever giving up Gmail because of how entrenched I am in the Google ecosystem.
Microsoft doesn't have this pull for me, but for new users it has added its SkyDrive cloud storage product out of the box. Quick access can be made to SkyDrive directly from the toolbar, and the service can be used to create and send documents via your Outlook.com address.
Unfortunately Microsoft hasn't updated the design or interface of SkyDrive yet, so switching between the two will feel like an unconnected experience.
I won't be swapping my personal email to Outlook.com anytime soon, but if Microsoft continue to add features to its cloud products who knows what the future might bring.
3 and a half stars
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