Outlook.com, Microsoft Turns Hotmail Into Mini-Social Network

Outlook Review

We have take a look at the new web-based Outlook mail service launched the other day by Microsoft as a replacement for the popular Hotmail. Here’s what we found.

Microsoft is passing through a stage of major changes on all the market segments it activates on: first we were lured with Windows 8, then with Windows Phone 8, and we have recently met the new Office 2013.

Microsoft has no match on the operating system and office suites for PC segments, but the Redmond-based company have lost the battle on the web-browsing mail services field.

Hotmail is just a memory of the mail service from the times where the inbox was limited to only 2 MB, as it lost the battle against Gmail on this segment.

But Microsoft felt like it’s time to recoup the time they lost, and their decision to ditch the Hotmail brand over Outlook, a lot more popular because of the desktop solution available in MS Office suite, is as logical as it seems.

Since I am a user of the Live services, I was redirected to the new and modern Outlook right away, after my first log in. I was surprised to see than Microsoft have truncated the Live account passwords to a maximum of 16 characters, but the problem was easy to overpass, without having to reset the password. Therefore if your Windows Live pass is bigger than 16 characters, just type in the first 16.

I have to admit that after I pressed sign in I was welcomed by one of the cleanest and fanciest interfaces built for web-based application.

First of all, the interface is aired, while the space is usefully occupied, almost on whole length of the screen by the menu and mail body. This happens because Microsoft chose to show the “more options” menu only when you try to compose an email.

For example, of you hover your mouse over an email’s title the “Mark as unread,” “Delete” and “Flag” options will be displayed, and, after you select one or more emails, the horizontal menu on the top of the page will show up.

You will find some interesting features there. Besides the classic Reply, Delete and Move to you can now set an email as Junk or as Phishing, but the Sweep feature is the most interesting of all.

With a single click, it allows you to delete or move into a specific folder all the mails you received from an email address. Moreover, what Microsoft calls Schedule Cleanup, helps you delete all other mails received from a certain email address, except the latest one or the ones newer than 10 days. Of course, you can also set certain delete options.

All these actions remind of the Metro interface, developed by Microsoft for Windows 8, all these to make all Microsoft services look the same, improving the user experience.

If you don’t like how the emails are displayed in the standard option, you can choose the Reading pane right to display the message in the right side of the display or for the Reading pane bottom, to move the email in the bottom of the screen, a reminiscent of Yahoo! Mail’s layout.

As well, Outlook is capable of knowing whether the email comes from one of your friends, if it’s about a newsletter email, or if it was sent by a social network.

The writing an email mechanism is also very friendly and easy to use. Unlike Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, Outlook is smart-using the space available horizontally: in the top left side you introduce the recipient, in the right side of the email body, you will find the text-editing options.

Unfortunately, right after I tried to send the first email I spotted a big problem. Microsoft wanted me to introduce a long and head-achy  captcha code, and after a few failed attempts the system have temporary blocked the send email option.

In Outlook.com, Microsoft integrates your social networks contact lists, with the likes of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. For example, after you import the contacts from Facebook and Twitter you can write on one of your friend’s wall or sent a Re-Tweet right from the Outlook page. In other words, Outlook allows you to contact your friends via email, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn without leaving the web-based application, an approach I personally find at least interesting.

The Skype integration is there, too, which will soon provide support for video chat sessions.

When one of your emails includes an attachment in Microsoft Office format, with the new Outlook you will be able to see Office documents via the online Microsoft Office application, without leaving the mail client.

In case the files are too big for the online version of MS’ office suite, you will be able to use SkyDrive, the storage in the cloud service developed by the Redmond-based company.

Outlook have received integration with other email accounts, as well. Therefore, you can add third-party email accounts to receive or send emails from the respective address directly form Outlook, without having to sign in in different mail clients.

The new Outlook is definitely a big step forward for Microsoft. The friendly user interface, the social network integration and the option that allows you to add third party email accounts are just some of the reasons you should try the new email client created by the American company.

Of course, it’s hard to leave Gmail or Yahoo! Mail behind so easy, but the (re)appearance of a powerful player on the web-based email services segment can only be a reason to cheer, as, because of the fiercer competition, Google and Yahoo! will have to improve their services, as well.

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