(The Root) — The Google brand might seem ubiquitous, but when it comes to email service, Hotmail still reigns as the Web-mail choice for 324 million users worldwide. Hotmail dominated the market when it was introduced 16 years ago, but the launch of Gmail and the rising popularity of social media and texting as preferred means of communication left Hotmail struggling to stay relevant. Microsoft is attempting to change that with the introduction of the new Web-based email platform Outlook.com.
The first thing you'll notice about the new interface is the simplicity of design. The ads are much less obnoxious, and the look and feel are generally more streamlined than before. Outlook also includes the ability to connect to your social networks, so now you can see Facebook status updates, tweets or LinkedIn posts in your inbox.
Connection to Skype is coming soon, allowing you to video-chat through email as well. The Exchange ActiveSync feature will sync everything across your desktop, smartphone, calendar and tablet. Microsoft will also offer 7 gigabytes of free storage on SkyDrive.
Protecting privacy is another way that Outlook is trying to differentiate itself from Gmail. Right now Google scans keywords in your email messages to show you ads it feels are relevant, but Outlook promises to use information for ads only from the subject line of emails. It kind of just sounds like the lesser of two evils to me, but if you asked me whether I'd want someone reading my emails or just the subject lines of my emails, I'd pick the second option.
I have had a Hotmail account for years and have already made the switch, creating an @outlook.com alias to start testing out the new features. So far I do like the new design, and I'm interested to see if the social media integration is actually useful or will just be something else to clutter my inbox. If you have a Hotmail address, you might want to set up your Outlook account just to make sure you get the name you'd like. You will be able to keep your @hotmail.com name, but eventually the service everyone sees when they log in will be Outlook.
Overall, I think this is a good step forward for Microsoft. Of course there are more improvements to be made, but if the fact that Outlook.com got 1 million users signed up in its first six hours after release is any indication, I'd say it was off to a good start.
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