Microsoft gets its mojo back; A test ride of Outlook.com & why it can give Gmail a run for its money
Microsoft has launched Outlook.com, a new e-mail service that has replaced Hotmail.com, but the million-dollar question is how does it fare vis-a-vis Google's Gmail and whether it can make a dent on the 400 million plus Gmail user base .
Microsoft, which had earlier bought Hotmail from Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith in 1998, will migrate current Hotmail/Live users to the new service.
We did a reality check and here is what we found.
With Outlook, Microsoft has given the user the ability to track and interact with services like Facebook and LinkedIn, all in one place. Once integrated, users can view friends and their updates, publish pictures, share updates/status and more. They can also chat with their Facebook friends by accessing the messaging icon provided in the top right corner.
While Gmail has also integrated with Google+, it's not the same, since it's not Facebook after all.
With Outlook, users can generate temporary one-time passwords to sign-in to their accounts. The one-time password is sent via an SMS (text messaging charges may apply) to the users mobile numbers, which means that they will have to provide their mobile numbers during the sign-up process. This is an interesting feature and it will come in handy while using others computers/laptops, since it will save the user from password thefts. In fact, Google can take a cue from Microsoft and add this to Gmail. The only problem is that we received the password after a couple of hours.
The company claims that Outlook.com uses 60 per cent fewer pixels and there are 30 per cent more messages visible in the users' inbox than the regular webmail. Unlike Gmail, there are no display ads. Outlook's search box is also much smaller than the one offered by Gmail, though it depends on individual users' taste to figure out whether it makes any difference.
Creating an Alias
One very interesting feature that we found in Outlook is that it allows its users to create an alias. Why would somebody want to do that? For the simple reason that many of us use multiple addresses for various things (like one for daily deal sites, another for torrents, job search, etc.) and we don't want those mails cluttering our inboxes. The alias feature allows the users to create additional addresses using the same id, allowing all the messages sent to those addresses to be automatically transferred into a separate dedicated folder.
For example, if you create 'firstname.lastname@example.org' as an alias and sign-up with Naukri.com using that, all job mails sent by Naukri will be collected in that folder, keeping the inbox clean.
Outlook.com automatically sorts e-mails from contacts, newsletters, shipping updates and social updates etc., so that the inbox does not get cluttered. You can also use a 'Sweep' feature to move, delete mails or schedule mail clean-ups.
Users can also open and edit attachments like Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote right from Outlook.com itself. And since the service comes with SkyDrive, users can send bigger files (photos, documents) by putting them on SkyDrive, so attachment limits is no longer a worry.
When you open mails with attachments, the pictures are shown as slideshows, which is cool. The company will also introduce a feature that will allow Outlook.com users to make Skype video calls using the service. Quick views feature allows users to view all mails with attachments like photos and documents without having to look for them separately.
Although we liked the service a lot, there were a few things that did bug us. Like if you access the 'Calendar' or 'SkyDrive', you are redirected to a rather sad layout (remnants of the Hotmail and Windows Live), which comes as a shock after getting used to the Metro-style layout of Outlook.com. Hopefully Microsoft will change that.
Also, if you are composing a new mail, there is no way of referring to old mails or accessing folders without saving the mail as a draft and navigating back to the Inbox. And once you have done that, you will have to navigate back to make further changes to your draft. Even Gmail works on the same logic, but the fact that the folders are omnipresent at the left hand side of the page means that you can quickly switch between drafts and mails.
But all things considered, Outlook.com has the potential to become a game-changer and if we dare say, Microsoft has definitely out-done itself this time. Once you're using Outlook.com, you can also set it up on other devices like mobile phones and tablets. Do keep in mind that Microsoft also has a desktop application and a service for businesses by the same name, so don't get mixed up.