HAVING RECENTLY CAUGHT up with Microsoft’s executive team at their world partner conference in Toronto, virtually every exec I spoke to was singing the praises of the cloud. Now it appears that all their hype may have been justified with the launch of Outlook.com, a cloud based email/storage/office productivity service that Microsoft is hoping will take the fight back to Google, whose Gmail offering has long held the lion’s share of online email users.
Launching an online email service isn’t an easy thing when you’re Microsoft. For a start their previous email offering, Hotmail, was literally bulging at the seams with garish adverts and worse still, was also a spam magnet. So understandably Microsoft are emphasising that Outlook.com isn’t a redesigned version of Hotmail, but is a completely new cloud service.
This approach is clearly evidenced by the fact that Outlook.com’s user interface is everything Hotmail is not. Garish and distracting banners plus video ads have been all but banished, and the adverts in Outlook.com are pretty discreet. Where Outlook.com really shines however, is its integrated access to Twitter and Facebook which allow you to retweet and ‘like’ content from your email.
Having bought Skype not so long ago, Microsoft has also been hinting that Skype integration is coming too, which along with online email, 7Gb of skydrive storage and access to a calendar (it is Outlook after all) and MS-office apps, makes Outlook.com a pretty compelling option for price-sensitive small businesses and students wanting access to a productivity tool on the cheap/free.
What immediately appeals upon registering and launching Outlook.com is its fresh, minimal and uncluttered interface which has clearly taken some design cues from Windows 8 and appears to have been designed to appeal to Gmail users who’ve long held Hotmail in contempt.
Outlook.com is open for business and it’s price is compelling (free). If you’re keen to check it out, doing so is pretty easy: simply create a new account or sign in using an existing Hotmail address.
So, what’s my verdict? Having only just registered, I’m quietly impressed with Outlook.com’s clean lines and ease of use, but I’m reserving judgement for a week or two to see just how much or how little a spam magnet Outlook.com is. Should Google be worried? Having a competitor the size of Microsoft hot on your heels mightn’t make for a peaceful night’s sleep if you’re the CEO of Google, but at least competition will force them to up their game, and the ultimate winner of this is you and I – so what’s not to like?
Well, it’s just typical isn’t it? The account I’d created worked fine while I was testing its various features and writing this review, but I was paid a visit by the f*ck-up fairy as soon as I’d published this review. Instead of bringing up my Outlook email, logging into Outlook brought up one of those horrid captcha thingos we all love to hate, even if they do keep spammers at bay (and god knows that the successor to Hotmail needs to be spam free). If that were the only issue, I’d be fine with it, but no matter what combination of letters I typed, nor how carefully I matched case and squinted at my PC’s monitor, the captcha system would not recognise what I’d typed and would serve another can of captcha whop-ass. Donning some headphones and clicking the captcha audio icon was even less useful, with the audio prompt sounding more like the deranged ravings of a Microsoftie who’d dropped acid. Not helpful. In the end I set up another account and all seems to be working fine…