Microsoft takes Outlook live

Perhaps "live" is a poor choice of words, seeing as Windows Live is dead. Early this morning, Microsoft took down the "opening soon" sign and brought Outlook -- that's the .com not the software -- out of beta. The webmail service is in "grand opening" mode with 60 million "active users" in tow, and more coming as they migrate from Hotmail.

Microsoft unveiled the email service nearly six months ago, decked out in Windows 8-logo blue and generous white space. During the beta process, Outlook ran alongside Hotmail. But with the new service launched, "we'll soon start to upgrade hundreds of millions of Hotmail users to the new Outlook.com experience", David Law, Outlook.com product management director, says.

No one will be left behind, and I expect some people to come kicking screaming -- seeing the uproar during the partially-aborted Hotmail to Windows Live migration. Stinkers won't get in the way this time. Microsoft plans to "upgrade every Hotmail user to Outlook.com", Law says. That means you. Bud.

"The upgrade is seamless and instant for people who use Hotmail", he emphasizes. "Everything from their @hotmail.com email address, password, messages, folders, contacts, rules, vacation replies, etc. will stay the same, with no disruption in service". There will be a process. "We expect all people using Hotmail to be upgraded by this summer".

My colleague Mihaita Bamburic wrote an exhaustive review of the Outlook mail service in August that remains highly relevant. While praising the visuals he concluded: "Outlook is commendable, but I wouldn’t recommend it over Gmail at the moment".

I would choose Outook over Gmail, even though it's my primary service. Call me a Gmail hater, but one sadly stuck. I would have adopted Windows Live Hotmail long ago and possibly Outlook if Microsoft supported IMAP. Sorry, but in the cloud-connected device era, where sync is mandatory feature, POP3 isn't good enough. I've got too many devices -- as you might, too -- and Outlook is no real option without IMAP.

I did inquire early this morning and heard from a spokesperson: "Nothing to share on IMAP for this release". That's standard-like statement going back eight years. So you can forget IMAP.

That's too bad, because Outlook offers much, and it's a feisty, fluid beastie running on Windows 8. I like the service. Design is some ways simplistic appearance, keeping with Microsoft's newer 2D approach. But I find the layout to be prettier and more functional than Gmail. With access to Documents, Photos, SkyDrive and Skype, Outlook and Gmail stack up fairly evenly for the major cloud extras.

"Nearly half of the people using Outlook.com have already used SkyDrive to share more than half a billion photos and Office documents", Law says.

Both services pack in too many ads -- more from Outlook than Gmail. But Microsoft removes them for anyone coughing up $19.95 a year, a previously available option that I've used before.

Law identifies Microsoft's major objectives for the service:

Outlook.com was designed as an email service focused on removing barriers and getting people going:

  • Delivering a beautiful, fresh and intuitive experience on modern browsers and devices
  • Keeping people connected to their friends and co-workers across the networks they really use
  • Providing a smart and powerful inbox to handle today's email needs, including SkyDrive for sharing virtually anything in a single email
  • Putting people in control by prioritizing their privacy

Does Outlook live up to them? You tell me.

Microsoft smartly supports the launch with a couple commercials, which I really like, embedded above.

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