Outsourcing

Dump Gmail for Outlook.com? Four reasons you might

Microsoft's Gmail competitor has finally arrived. You might be surprised to learn that it brings some useful innovations to webmail. Here are the big four.

Microsoft now has a big-time Gmail competitor. Before you chuckle and say "that only took eight years," keep in mind that Gmail is largely the same product that Google launched in 2004 -- with some nice incremental tweaks to improve the user interface.

Microsoft wants to inject some innovation into webmail again -- and it looks like they may have pulled it off. On Tuesday, the company unveiled Outlook.com, which is both its successor to Hotmail as well as its enhanced webmail for individual business professionals. It draws on Hotmail, Microsoft Exchange, and the Metro UI from Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8.

Based on my look at the working preview of Outlook.com that Microsoft has already released into the wild as well as an interview with one of Microsoft's product leads on Outlook.com, I think there are four reasons why some users -- especially professionals -- will be legitimately tempted to make the switch from Gmail.

1. Automatic folders

The best new innovation in Outlook.com is what I like to call its "automatic folders" feature. The system attempts to smartly sort some of your mail for you by automatically creating virtual folders for common stuff like email newsletters, Facebook and Twitter alerts, and other repetitive messages that can end up burying more important emails from human beings you actually need to correspond with. Obviously, since this is run by an algorithm, there will certainly be some false positives and negatives and you might have to tweak it, but I like the low-touch nature of this feature. Microsoft has also tried to streamline the process of setting up your own inbox rules as well in Outlook.com.

In his blog post about the new service, Microsoft's Chris Jones summed up the feature. "Outlook.com automatically sorts your messages from contacts, newsletters, shipping updates, and social updates," wrote Jones, "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."

Another mail management feature that I like in Outlook.com is that you can hover over a message and get a set of actions to delete the message or flag it as important or sort it to a folder -- and you can even customize the functions you want to see on the hover-over.

2. Mobile experience

The biggest benefit that Microsoft has in designing a new webmail service in 2012 is that it can optimize it for today's intensely-mobile world.

"The way people do mail on their mobile phone tends to be a little different," said Brian Hall, General Manager of Windows Live and Internet Explorer. "They don't do as much mail management."

With that in mind, Microsoft used the automatic folder feature as its way of helping organize and prioritize users' inboxes in a way that can work in virtually any type of desktop or mobile email client.

"Most people on a phone or tablet use the native mail client," said Hall. "In those instances you want to make sure you work with any inbox. It's a different approach than Priority Inbox from Google because they have to go create clients for mobile or else it breaks Priority Inbox."

Hall also stressed that Microsoft is focused on delivering an excellent mobile web experience. In fact, the company is so focused on the native client and mobile web experience of Outlook.com that it doesn't currently have plans to build an app for Microsoft's own Windows Phone 7. "It works beautifully with the native client," said Hall.

On the other hand, he said they are working on an Android app, because "Android devices are less likely to have an Exchange ActiveSync client."

3. Privacy protection

One of the creepiest parts of Gmail has always been the fact that it does text-mining on your emails and uses that information to surface targeted ads. That's the price you pay for unlimited storage and a free service. For example, if you're emailing back-and-forth with a family member about a trip to go hiking, Gmail will simultaneously surface text ads for things like Rocky Mountain vacations, hiking boots, and protein bars. While these ads are generally unobtrusive and occasionally even useful, it still freaks out some people to realize that Google is essentially "reading their mail." This is especially true for business professionals and others who use email to transmit potentially valuable or sensitive information.

Capitalizing on this uneasiness, Microsoft is promising that Outlook.com will not do text-mining on your inbox, while still offering its service for free and with "virtually unlimited storage."

"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," Jones stated.

That doesn't mean Outlook.com won't have ads. There are right-column ads on the main inbox screen, but there aren't ads on individual messages. Also, I'm sure these ads are going to be targeted based on what Microsoft knows about you in general, just not on the content of your individual messages.

4. Social integration

One of my favorite plug-ins for Gmail is Rapportive, which fills the right column in Gmail with contact information about the person you're emailing. It draws that information from LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook (once you've logged in to those services) and will even show you the LinkedIn job title and latest status updates from the contact you're emailing.

Microsoft has taken this kind of functionality and built it directly into Outlook.com, filling the right column of its message screen with this same kind of social contact data, but displaying it in a little bit simpler, cleaner way that follows the Metro UI style. Outlook.com doesn't appear to show quite as much data as Rapportive.

However, Microsoft has taken social integration a step further. You can not only view people in your social networks from within Outlook.com and see their latest updates, but from the "People hub" you can also respond to status updates on Twitter and write on someone's Facebook wall, all directly from Outlook.com. You can also do Facebook chat within Outlook.com. The instant messaging functionality itself is another strong feature of Outlook.com. The implementation is certainly better integrated and more usable than GTalk in Gmail.

Bottom line

Hall said Microsoft was focused on several key priorities in Outlook.com: "Clean UI, design for tablets and all devices, connected with the services you actually use (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), works great with [Microsoft] Office and SkyDrive, and actually prioritizes your privacy."

Before I took a look at Outlook.com, I couldn't imagine that there was much Microsoft could do to innovate in webmail, and I expected it to feel like a desperate late attempt to make Hotmail relevant by copying Gmail. While Outlook.com is definitely aimed squarely at Gmail, I was surprised at how fresh it feels. There's some really useful innovation in there, and I think it's really smart for Microsoft to go after Google on privacy. It means Outlook.com won't be nearly as powerful of a money-maker as Gmail, but it could build some needed goodwill from users.

I also like that Microsoft isn't afraid to admit that this is aimed directly at stealing some of Gmail's thunder. Hall said, "If you're a heavy Google Docs or a Google+ user, then Gmail is probably for you. Otherwise, if you use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Office, then Outlook [dot com] is better."

That's an ambitious claim. And it may just have some legs.

For more details on Outlook.com, see Kent German's deep dive over on CNET. Also, check out Mark Kaelin's first look at Outlook.com in his TechRepublic gallery.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

176 comments
sweet5
sweet5

I like outlook not that I am going to make it as my main email address. I was able to get my firstnamelastname@outlook and lastnamefirstname@outlook, still I think outlook is not so sturdy like gmail. I mean I was using yahoo before than switched to gmail and webmail became so easy. If I don't log in into my gmail for 1 day I find that I am missing something. That much importance gmail has made in my life. I like the way gmail handles my emails and my priority inbox. I like the skydrive portion of microsoft. Looks very neat and I am able to store my picture and presentation. However, for emails I would still prefer gmail. I like the 2-point verification security which makes it a lot sturdy than microsoft. Both are good in a way it just depends upon the usage. I have my own custom domain with google and I use the google apps with it. That much said, I love my gmail. I have one gmail for work, one for personal, one for school, one my own domain for my blog and advance study certifications, one for resume and blogger interactions and several others just to grab my favorite ids. Microsoft is good but once you get used to gmail thats the only webmail you will like. Its like using Iphone. Once you are Iphone addict nothing seems pretty in front of it.

rewd1
rewd1

... and that is the issue of data mining contents. I'm dependent upon my ISP for email service and being rural I'm limited to two providers both of who rely on web based email products, both of whom data mine. Frontier recently forcefully migrated it's customers to Yahoo where, although we retain an "@frontier.com" address, it is simply a mask for a Yahoo address and we are under their TOS which includes the right to scan email contents. My ISP provided email was always designated for financial or highly personal communications while Gmail, and yes one time long ago Yahoo, considered disposable and not used for anything I would consider important. Now that my ISP is defacto Yahoo I feel violated, with results of email content scanning already apparent across the web. Due to other serious issues with Frontier I'm left with Shentel cable as my sole affordable alternative where they have offloaded their email to Google and Gmail, again to be scanned and data mined. Though I'll more than likely be switching to Shentel seeing as Outlook seems to take this issue seriously I'll be foregoing any "ISP provided" service and going with Outlook as my primary "valued" email account. It's that simple. Until such time as I can afford other alternatives such as hosting my own domain and mail, Outlook is will be my mail of choice. Now if only the Outlook UI wasn't so overly spartan and a bit more customizable I'd be a bit happier ... :/

songluo
songluo

I won't even start to use outlook.com new live mail unless it supports IMAP.

rAllcorn
rAllcorn

Why, when folks are looking for ways to get "away from" Microsoft and especially the heavy beast, Outlook, would you encourage them to go back to the past? Isn't this a step in the wrong direction?

eric_s
eric_s

I haven't seen any "useful" information yet. How much storage? What retention length? What security from hacking(other than internal)? Upload and download limits? The list goes on and on. More information, rather than MS Boosting

ServHi-Tech
ServHi-Tech

I cannot connect from Outlook directly to Outlook.com. On my Android, calendars coming from my outlook.com account are in a separate application than the default calendar. I can use Smart filtering and Labels in gMail Outlook.com is great for social network compare to gMail FOR NOW. Outlook.com is far better for privacy concern BUT YOU KNOW'S... Well, I'll stick with Google for now... I have 4 devices all sync almost in real-time (mails(& sub-folders),contacts,calendars(& sub-folders) & tasks(& sub-folders).

linux-user
linux-user

The problem is that Microsoft has absolutely no interest in customer service or providing on-going services to customers. We will never align any corporate commitment to Microsoft products. They have never assumed any ongoing responsibility for their products.

doron01
doron01

The first test mail I sent into my test mailbox there was filed as junk... (it wasn't).

northca707@gmail.com
northca707@gmail.com

I never thought I would abandon Gmail but I probably will. Why? I got locked out of one of my Gmail accounts - and there is NO way to contact Gmail. I tried to access it on different computers, at different locations, to no avail. Yes, I looked at their troubleshooting tips - and they were useless. Reconstructing contacts is a lot of work - and I don't want to do it on a system where the same problem may recur.

peter_erskine
peter_erskine

Don't forget that Google stand for something more than just salesmanship and profiteering. At the heart of outlook.com and Microsoft lies a fundamental weakness - a very dubious history, and a lack of real character outside of capitalism.

NMulrine
NMulrine

I do not see much difference between the Web browser Hotmail interface than this Interface?I thought with the name they were going to bring in some of the cool features of Outlook Application to online!!! There was potential Microsoft!!

Labrynth
Labrynth

I am so disappointed in Outlook.com. Microsoft, who invested much over the years in Outlook, could have, should have, brought at a bare minimum, Outlook Web Access to this. Outlook.com pales in comparison and is "INCOMPLETE" as an email client. I'm really getting TIRED of Microsux (Microsoft) trying to put out "CHEAPNESS" in products like this. WHY? Where is the real benefit of a "CHEAPNESS" alternative to using Microsoft Outlook 2003/2007/2010 ? They are already marketing MS Office 2013 as a "CLOUD BASED SOLUTION" with full implementation of Outlook Web Access. Why NOT also on Outlook.com The PRODUCT SUCKS ! Microsux (Microsoft) why don't you take a bit of advice from an IT Professional who's been using your products since MS-DOS 1.0 ..... QUIT trying to SCREW everyone over with CHEAPER applications. You have some of the best apps on the planet and this is how you are trying to screw over the user base you have established ?

afasja
afasja

Privacy is concern.. its worth switching from gmail to outlook if they guarantee no any inbox text-mining, But as a test I sent some test mails from my outlook.com to gmail and it take more than 3 minutes to reach my gmail mail box, but when i sent from gmail to outlook.com its took few seconds only.. in performance still gmail is better

Peter Sanders
Peter Sanders

Seriously, if you think that Microsoft does not monitor the traffic through its servers you'd better think again. Microsoft has for many years, been monitoring more than just emails. None of what I read here excites me. It's nothing I can't already do very easily with Gmail and my phone. My phone does have Exchange Active sync and it works well! Microsoft and innovation should not be used in the same sentence :) Regards Peter

Tumbleweed_Biff
Tumbleweed_Biff

I have never been bothered by Gmail's ads. I understand the technology behind it and I don't see a reason to be concerned - until or unless it is shown or found that Google is doing more than feeding ads but is instead actually providing information to others about me ... One of the huge and nearly fatal weaknesses to Gmail from my perspective has been the global inbox and the inability to organize my mail into folders. I hate having everything dumped into one big pile with no ability to sort or organize. Were Outlook.com produced by someone other than Microsoft, I expect that one feature alone would be enough to get me to switch from Gmail. I dearly hope that Gmail takes the hint and wises up in this regard. This is a significant improvement and Microsoft has majorly upped the ante with this one feature alone.

letusdazzleu
letusdazzleu

You lost me by invoking 'Hotmail' in any way, shape or form. As the most heinously porous email system in existence security-wise, I'd need some serious convincing to trust any free webmail service from Microsoft. Google still has it going on even with its flaws. When MS is ready to meaningfully integrate productivity apps into a more secure and affordable structure like Google has, then I'll listen. As for text mining, give me a spam free inbox and I'm willing to accept some ads as long as they are unobtrusive.

ManWithCamera
ManWithCamera

“Most people on a phone or tablet use the native mail client,” said Hall. Why would anyone do that?! This article is targeted to Gmail users, right? I only use the Gmail app on my Android devices. Since my phone is rooted, I removed the native email application along with all the other bloatware. Why would I want to mess with that? POP3 server name? SMTP server name? IMAP server name? Ports to use? I've been using web mail since around 1995. I was ecstatic when Gmail came out and enabled me to use keyboard shortcuts in a web-based email program and made it all work without reloading the entire page every time you clicked on a message. I've been using GMail ever since. GMail keeps getting better. They've got a "Priority Inbox" (which I admit I don't really use to its potential) that can be trained to highlight important messages automatically. They group messages according to conversation, which is an amazingly useful feature. I'm not switching.

Bill Day
Bill Day

I don't like the fact that Microsoft appears intent on making Outlook.com users use, well, Outlook, and only the latest version. Outlook.com has ActiveSync support, but apparently does not support IMAP, thus freezing out a host of third-party mail clients.

dijcks
dijcks

Like Everything "MIcrosoft", it's cumbersome, NOT intuitive, and NOT convenient. In just under 45 minutes (the time it took for me to find a good username since I was forced to retype the "no-robot" code EVERY time), I tried to send a test email. Guess what? Uniess I "verify" myself EVERY time I login and send an email, I have to type in a verification code? Hell NO. In their typical frog-fashion, they are behind the tech line. I'll just stick with gmail, and my personal webserver.

broerkie
broerkie

i think that you Mr Hiner have a better chance of getting pregnant...

dlandrum
dlandrum

The disclaimer in the article says: "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,” Jones stated." To me, that says they don't scan AND sell...it is not an unequivocal statement of "we do not and will not scan your email." Words mean things, and the way that is worded, it does not mean what most people will think.

cmiller3021
cmiller3021

If you use Outlook in M/S Office, is there any difference? Or is this program strictly for users of the free email addresses available on the web?

Rodo1
Rodo1

I am certainly not going to dump Gmail, but Outlook is OK. I've had an MSN email account for years and use it very little. I may direct more there now, but just new stuff as it comes up. It will not replace any existing accounts I have. I do not change email accounts on a whim! That would be a full time job for me.

strangefruit
strangefruit

While some might have privacy concerns concerning data mining, I am fairly certain that the litigious nature of the USA will keep Google and all other web services in check. However, while I normally have ads blocked in my gmail on FF, I sometimes use Chrome when I want to see what Google determines to be relevant, especially when I am working on some project. The adverts that show tend to guide my research and provides information on competitors, or services I may actually have an interest in. People can hardly claim to be interested in privacy when they are busy pouring out their life stories on facebook and other social networks or using passwords that embarrassing in their simplicity and companies do not bother to prevent the use or monitor the use of portable drives.

mahesh_88
mahesh_88

Outlooks new Automatic Folders system works by scanning users Email and then based on Keyword it will move emails to related folders. Even Gmail uses similar technique to scan Emails and know users choice and then displays related text-ads. In both the cases Human interference is not involved. If you accuse Gmail of breaching privacy then Microsoft should also be accused of the same.

prasadcnair
prasadcnair

I have gone through many comments. All of them saying gmail is better have a thumbs down and for others, a thumbs up! Too bad.

gerbilio
gerbilio

Jason, you're probably being paid by Apple. :)

Ocie3
Ocie3

@ Mr. Jason Hiner: FWIW, I've used a Hotmail account for over 3 years, and recently examined the Outlook.com "preview". I don't know which software you've had the opportunity to examine and review. The "conversion" to Outlook.com that I experienced only a few days ago did [b][i]not[/i][/b] have in evidence any of the four features that you have described, even to the extent that any one of them exists in Hotmail. The Outlook.com UI was so primitive that there was nothing gained by continuing to use it, and I exercised the option -- fortunately there is (or was) an option -- to return to using the Hotmail interface. Also, I'm not so impressed by these features as you've described them. In my experience, any time that Microsoft's software does anything automatically, it is never for my benefit, but evidently for Microsoft's benefit. More to the point, I've yet to see a feature developed for that purpose configurable to serve my own. For example, the "Sweep" feature, in my experience with Hotmail, is obviously there to keep e-mail from accumulating on the MS e-mail servers. It is a rude, crude, "tool" that is not configurable in any way that serves [b]my[/b] need to "get to the e-mail that you really want". Microsoft should realize that any e-mail that [b]I[/b] "don't really want" is marked for future processing as [i]junk mail[/i] by my own choice, not just by Microsoft's Hotmail server junk-mail filters. Automatically sorting e-mail messages as you have described is not how I want to handle them. If I cannot turn that off or re-configure it, then I will be looking for an e-mail client with which I can download all of the raw, unprocessed, unread content, which would require a client that can use Exchange ActiveSync. Please see if you can find one of those and let us know. :-)

scottcp36
scottcp36

(By the way I also hate that hitting the Tab key in the Subject line here does not put the cursor in the comment section!) I Hate Gmail... I've tried to like it, tried to understand it, and go with the flow...but I just can't do it. Standard email systems work quite well for me, and getting used to labels, threaded conversations, etc., just doesn't make sense to me. I'm quite a technical person, and I'm all about collaboration...but Gmail just doesn't do it for me. I use Yahoo mail on a daily basis, and I find the interface much nicer, more modern, and more functional than Gmail's. I have also used Hotmail for years as a secondary address, and it has always been ok as well. The new "Outlook" interface seems alright, not a huge advancement from Hotmail, but it's nice that they're working on improving it. At least I can right click on an email and actually get an appropriate context-sensitive menu!

mp
mp

Granted that this is better than MSN or Hotmail, but that's a pretty low bar. Google, at least, started out trying to "not be evil." I can't say that about Microsoft. There is nothing they offer that I want anything to do with, period.

nb_bhai
nb_bhai

While the indicated changes are welcom, I as a gmail user may not shift. I am not sure if anyone will be able to offer anything equivalent to Labels of gmail. Then a very powerful mail search facility coupled with conversation view, make it far superlative. well this is an end user's view

bspittle
bspittle

My biggest complain with Gmail is that mail can only be sorted by date. Other email software allows the user to sort by Subject, Sender etc. The only way to get around this is to synchronize Gmail with software like Outlook....

Unique Worldwide
Unique Worldwide

Change is the only constant thing in life. It is commendable that Microsoft has realized that. I just created a new mail account from the new outlook.com. It is fantastic! It has all the features I need to quickly do most of the stuffs I do. If you haven't tried it, do it now. Thanks to TechRepublic for their article on this new web mail.

bd1235
bd1235

so slow compared with Gmail. I now have an outlook.com email address with an additional alias using mailbox names I could never get before in Hotmail. There are benefits to getting in early. For the moment I just redirect any outlook.com email to Gmail. MS have eased their paranoia a little. I could never do that on Hotmail or Live addresses. When its all settled down I will look at it again and decide about it. I dont like to be a beta tester for anybody. It looks like MS may eventually use mailboxes with other countries domain names too, just like Hotmail. I tested outlook.com.au and it exists. Now where was I back in Gmail ....

Not The One
Not The One

I tried it for about a day. I ended up going back to Hotmail. I didn't like how the text is gray so it's harder to read. They should have just kept it black. And, I hate the overzealous security paranoia. When viewing an email and I delete it, it goes back to the list of items instead of viewing the next email (like how Hotmail is now). Instead, I have to hunt where I was last. Stupid. At minimum, they should highlight the next item and disable the idiotic mouse hover. I need the highlight so I can target the next item to click open. Lastly, there's too much spacing between items. Just a waste of space. Double spacing the items is not aesthetic.

pmmrozinsky
pmmrozinsky

Yes it is a free email account, but you also are paying for the ads that are eating up your paid for bytes in your data plan, which is why the cessation of unlimited data plans.

jsexton9
jsexton9

I was intrigued, so I signed on. That's as far as I got. No matter what I tried, Outlook could not connect with my current email account at Roadrunner. That cooled my interest, so I've decided I can live without it.

prasadcnair
prasadcnair

I used to read Jason's posts, and I doubt, this is the worst of all. When I read through, it looked as if written by a microsoft marketing executive. Isn't it the same non-standard MAPI?

marlorcomp
marlorcomp

All I can think of is 4 reasons not to use Outlook.com. First of all, I do not want anything to do with Microsoft anymore, The automatic email folders I can see is nothing more than a possible nightmare. Microsoft is losing their market share and is slowly going the way of IBM. And last, the company is doing what they want and not listening to their customers anymore. Windows 8 will be the company's biggest flop - time will tell.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Best of both worlds! :) IMAP is really kewl with this too!

PurpleSkys
PurpleSkys

it's more like hotmail/gmail...free web based email service

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've noticed the same thing lately. There is at least one person who systematically votes down any comment that doesn't praise MS, even the ambivalent o neutral ones. Yet another reason not to trust unscientific polls or the 'wisdom of the masses'.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

including IBM, Burroughs, Atari, AOL, Popcap, DeVry, 4chan, anonymous, Ho Chen's Abacus Restringing and Egg Roll Take-Out, and Chick-Fil-A. I don't know what he's doing with all the money; I've seen his car. :D :D :D

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The first tab takes you to the Formatting link, on the right between the Subject and Comment fields. Oddly, the Formatting link only appears when entering a new post, not when entering a Reply. When you tab after entering the Subject on a Reply, the cursor does go to the Comment field.

mahesh_88
mahesh_88

I still remember those days when Yahoo mail was a popular Email Service provider. It was too slow, lacked storage and inbox would be full of spam. When gmail was launched, it proved that free email services can be of good user interface and that too with good speed. Storage was free and i had never seen Spam message after switching to Gmail. Microsoft inspite of having such a good revenue took so much time to launch good free email service.

Krotow
Krotow

Try Thunderbird. It also has sorting and grouping features and don't choke if mailbox size is going above 2 GB.

PurpleSkys
PurpleSkys

and to open my hotmail...although i did sign up for outlook.com just in case i needed it down the line for something...and it's firstnamlastname; i got lucky i guess :)

JCitizen
JCitizen

I haven't converted to Outlook on Hotmail yet, I'm happy with what I got. I'll just let the inevitable occur. They say all accounts will convert automatically at a given date or time - I don't remember when. I like the junk mail handling on Hotmail; but I notice my gmail junk has gone way down, since I activated the filter. I can use Google apps or Outlook either way. I used Google apps to set the filter. I probably need to drop the Postini service, as gmail probably does a better job.

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