Today, Microsoft is rolling out a “preview” of Outlook.com, which will be their new web-based email service, replacing Hotmail.com. Yes, I said “replacing Hotmail.com.” As in the web-based email we all love to hate, the one that has been synonymous with “You use WHAT?”
I will admit to having been a Hotmail Hater. I’ve had many emails over the last 20 years, and I always avoided Hotmail. Heck, I even stayed with Gmail even through all the “you know we’re scanning your emails to serve up more personalized ads to you, right” hue and cries. When I got my Windows Phone 7 device (HTC Surround, 1st generation, on release day), I said, “Well, I guess I’d better go get a @hotmail.com or @live.com address.” I choose the former because I don’t have an Xbox, and I choose it with a bit of a heavy sigh. The first time I actually went and used the web-based interface, I actually didn’t think it was That Bad. Pretty clean, easy to find things (for me, anyway) – in fact, it “felt” just like Outlook to me, which was Just Fine because I was used to it.
So to remember the past: Hotmail had this short graphic at the top, all the way across, with your account name on the far right (you could change your colors, theme, availability, other account management items), with the left having links to Hotmail, MSN, SkyDrive, and Messenger. Under that was the gamut of options for your mail (New, Delete, blah blah). The left pane had the Inbox, folder lists, Quick Views, and who was on Messenger. The right pane was advertising, and the center was the meat of it all, your emails.
Fast forward to Outlook.com. A LOT cleaner. At the top is a metro-colored minimalist bar (and I really mean in a good way. Those new minimalist picture icons in Gmail? I have to mouse over them to figure out what they mean!). On the far left is the “Outlook” home link next to which, only when you mouse to it, appears a drop-down arrow that upon clicking, pulls down a Windows 8 IE10 inspired black bar with the choices to hop to Mail, People, Calendar, or SkyDrive. What comes next is contextually based on what you’re looking at (gotta love that). If you’re in the email list, without any email selected or in the preview pane (if you use it), what you see is only a plus within a circle and “New” next to it, to create a new message. As soon as you select an email, you get the list (New, Reply, Delete, Junk, Sweep, Move To, Categories, and “…” which seems to be a doesn’t-fit-in-the-other-categories category), some of which have drop-down arrows next to them. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the text is in Large Friendly Type. Love, love, love that: it’s great for poor old geezer eyes like mine. In fact, It seems to me that all of the text is larger than the old UI.
And here’s an interesting aside: some of the … mmm … text within the application (in various places) is Very Informal. For instance, clicking on the drop down arrow for “Junk” gives you the following: Junk, Phishing Scam, My friend’s been hacked!
The new Outlook.com will be doing some other things, as well. Just like the new Bing, it integrates your friend’s status updates and tweets and more into the experience IF YOU USE YOUR ASSOCIATED ACCOUNT, naturally. (Which I don’t. But it’s highly possible I may try it…)
But I’ve gotten sidetracked. Further to the right in this new menu bar is a Chat icon that opens and closes a chat sidebar. You can see who is available, and what conversations you’ve got going. Next to that is the Settings cog where you can change your colors (to the available Metro colors), turn your reading pane off, to the right of the list, or at the bottom of the page (whichever your prefer), go to More mail settings, get Help, leave Feedback, or even Switch back to the Hotmail interface (yes, you can switch back: in the Hotmail UI, under your name on the far left is “profile sign out” and under that is “options”. You can “upgrade to Outlook.com” from the options drop-down). Lastly on the far right is your name and avatar, with a drop-down that lets you choose your Messenger settings (Available, Invisible, Available on…, Edit profile, Account settings, and sign out).
Under all of that are the different panes: Folders and Quick Views on the left, then your emails in a list, the preview pane (if you use it and selected “right), and advertisements. There is a settings cog at the bottom of the advertisement pane that sends you to “Microsoft Personal Data Dashboard (beta)”. I’m not going to go over that now (because that isn’t really what I’m reviewing), but it is almost certainly Worth Your Time to go through this sooner rather than later. And probably often.
And really, that’s what I’ve explored so far. Without using my Live ID for my social account, I really can’t test out the social integration. But what I’ve seen, I really, really like.
Here are some of the things in the office.com’s blog:
First: the promotional video.
Now, some of the comments (for the full text, see the link above):
”…email is becoming less and less useful as inboxes become cluttered with newsletters and social updates, and people increasingly keep up their personal connections in social networks instead of their email address books.”
That’s probably an understatement.
“And so with the Outlook.com preview, we are giving you the first email service that is connected to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, and soon, Skype, to bring relevant context and communications to your email. “
“Outlook.com automatically sorts your messages from contacts, newsletters, shipping updates, and social updates, and with our Sweep features you can move, delete and set up powerful rules in a few, simple clicks so you can more quickly get to the email you really want. “
Now stop. Do you see those two words “shipping updates”? Yes, there is an item in the Quick Views called “Shipping updates”, and it pulls out items that it Thinks has shipping info. I tried it. At the top of the email, Outlook inserts its own little header that says, “It looks like the shipping number is” xxx and also gives you a link to go check UPS. I’m liking that. No more hunting for that one email, then searching IT for the shipping number.
“So we included free Office Web Apps — Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote – which let you view and edit attachments without leaving your inbox.”
Office Web integration: everything is “in the cloud” and we want you to use OUR STUFF.
“We don’t scan your email content or attachments and sell this information to advertisers or any other company, and we don’t show ads in personal conversations. “
We’re looking at you, Google!
I don’t see it… outlook.com just goes to my Windows Live account… oh well..
Try this then: to the right of your screen, under your name, do you see “options”? If yes, click that. There may be an “upgrade to outlook” selection.