RIP Hotmail, Long Live Outlook.com

Subject: General Tech | May 3, 2013 - 04:50 PM |
Tagged: webmail, outlook, microsoft, hotmail, email

Microsoft has completed the transition to its new Outlook.com email service. The successor (and replacement) to Hotmail, Outlook.com now has more than 400 million active subscribers. Microsoft opened the Outlook.com service in beta form last year, and finally took it out of preview mode in February. Since then, the company has been moving everyone’s accounts over to the new service. In all, the company moved more than 300 million accounts from the old Hotmail databases to the new Outlook service. Over a six week period, Microsoft moved more than 150 Petabytes of user data to the new service!

From now on, users will now log in to Outlook.com and interact with the new Modern UI-esque user interface. Users that were part of the company’s Hotmail service will get to keep their existing @hotmail.com accounts and no configuration setting changes will be necessary. New users will only get @outlook.com addresses, however. Any Hotmail Plus users will get to keep their paid status and enjoy a version of Outlook.com without any sidebar ads.

Microsoft Outlook Webmail.jpg

Now that the transition is complete, Microsoft is working on adding new features to Outlook.com. Right now, the company is working on introducing deeper integration with SkyDrive as well as tweaking the sending of email from alternate accounts. Both new features will be gradually rolled out to users over the next few weeks.

The SkyDrive integration will be bolstered by adding a new attachment option when sending an email that will allow users to attach files stored on SkyDrive. Outlook will then add a link to the email and automatically assign the correct permissions to allow the email recipient to download the file. If you attach a photo from SkyDrive, it will automatically create a thumbnail or gallery of photos within the email body.

The new SMTP send feature tweaks the way Outlook sends mail via an alternative email account (for example, if you added an old Gmail or Yahoo mail account to your Hotmail or Outlook.com email account) such that it no longer shows your Hotmail address “on behalf of” your alternative email. Once the new features is rolled out, email recipients will only see your alternative email address and your Hotmail/Outlook email will not be revealed.

If you are curious about the new Outlook.com interface, check out my Outlook.com preview article.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft Revamps its Webmail with Metro-Inspired Design, Rebrands It Outlook.com

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 1, 2012 - 09:11 AM |
Tagged: webmail, outlook, microsoft, metro ui, hotmail, email

Hotmail, the latest iteration of Microsoft's web-based email service will soon be getting a user interface overhaul that takes many cues from the company's upcoming metro-ized Windows 8 operating system. In fact, it very closely resembles the new Mail client in Windows 8 as well as the new Outlook client in the Customer Preview of Office 2013 that I have been using for a a couple of weeks now.

new_outlook_message.jpg

Along with the (in my opinion, much needed) user interface updates comes yet another rebranding. Microsoft is ditching the "Hotmail" name in favor of the more professional-sounding "Outlook.com" webmail name. Now in public beta, users can switch over to the new Outlook.com webmail if they want, but it is not yet mandatory. Reportedly, all Hotmail users will eventually be moved over the new Outlook webmail once the service is in final stages of development. As Ars Technica points out, this is not Microsoft's first rebranding. In fact, it is somewhere around the fifth rebranding/iteration. Here's hoping that it is the last and that they manage to successfully brand the service–and do not tarnish the Outlook name.

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I decided to take a look at the new Outlook.com interface for myself, and you can too. To switch over, log into your current Hotmail account, click on the "Options" link in the upper-right-hand side of the window and choose "Upgrade to Outlook.com." 

The new interface is very flat, and much more simplified versus the old Hotmail. The current Hotmail UI leaves a lot to be desired. It has a rather large advertising panel on the right, rather unattractive scroll bars that do not really fit in with the design's color scheme, and links along the top for other Microsoft services and email functions (like reply, junk, and categories) that can be difficult to read and find. It is a rather dated design by today's standards, especially considering Microsoft's hard push for updated UIs on other platforms–hence the Outlook.com refresh.

old_hotmail.jpg

As mentioned before, the Outlook.com webmail UI is very similar to the Metro Mail application that comes with Windows 8. It is broken into a four panel design. The folders and quick views links from Hotmail and the email header list is carried over and given a flat Metro design with stylized scroll bars and a folder list with a light gray background. The third panel serves as the reading pane and sits in between the email list and advertising panel–which thankfully moves to text-based ads only. The contents of your emails are displayed in this panel. It is not a fully responsive HTML design, but it does scale fairly well as the browser window is resized.

Along the top of the screen is a blue bar that holds links for email actions (reply, junk, delete, ect), an Outlook button, Messenger button, Settings button, and account settings (when clicking on your name in the upper-right). The white text on the blue background is much easier to read than the current Hotmail design thanks to the slightly larger text and the better contrast.

When hovering over the Outlook button, a small arrow appears. If you click on that arrow, you get a pop up menu with tiles much like Windows 8's Metro UI for Mail, People, Calendar, and SkyDrive. Unfortunately, the Calendar and SkyDrive links simply go to the respective web sites. And those web sites have not been updated with the new Outlook design.

new_outlook_skydrive_integration.jpg

The following screenshot shows the interface used for creating a new email. Again, you get a flat two panel design with a top navigation bar. On the left, you can add recipients from your contacts or by typing them in manually, while on the right you can use the text editor to add rich text and HTML or compose plain text emails.

new_outlook_new_message.jpg

Outlook.com has a new People tab as well, where you can manage contacts and chat using the built-in messenger client. It is the only other tile that has received a facelift, the calendar and SkyDrive pages are still using the old/current design. It forgoes the blue and white theme for an orange and white color scheme, but maintains the paneled design. On the left you have a list of contacts, and in the middle it lists details the selected contacts. The right-most panel does away with advertisement in favor of a web-based messaging client.

new_outlook_people_1.jpg

One nice new feature is further integration with the various social networks (if you are into that sort of thing, of course). You can now add contacts from your Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter profile(s). Further, the messenger client support talking with Windows Messenger, Facebook Chat, and Skype (coming in a future update) contacts.

new_outlook_people.jpg

In short, the new Microsoft webmail interface is a much welcomed update. Scrolling and navigation is noticeably smoother than the current Hotmail UI. Opening messages feels quicker as well. Opening the Messaging tab actually replaces the advertising panel completely, which is a nice touch. As mentioned above, the scroll bars are different. They appear to be a bit wider, and very much two dimensional, but the bars actually look much better than the current Hotmail design as they fit nicely into the aesthetic and color scheme.

new_outlook_no_ads.jpg

The only (rather minor) issue is that, because of the larger text, I cannot, at a glance, check for new messages in the various folders I use. On the other hand, the text is easier to read and the scrolling is fast enough that it's only a minor thing. Further, despite the new Outlook.com name Microsoft's webmail does not support IMAP protocols. And being web-based, if your internet connection goes down you lose access to your email–there is no Google Gears support here.

While the new interface is not enough to bring me away from using a desktop client (which funnily enough is Outlook 2013), it is vastly improved versus the current Hotmail website and is worth switching over to. For being a webmail client, it is a very smooth, and dare I say slick, experience.

More information on Outlook 2013 desktop client–which Outlook 2013 seems to take inspiration from design-wise– I mentioned can be found using the outlook and office 2013 tags. Stay tuned for more Outlook.com information as the beta progresses. What features would you like to see? (I'd like to see the new UI carried over to the SkyDrive site!) Once you have gotten a chance to try the new Outlook.com beta, let us know what you think of it in the comments below (no registration required).