In the world of webmail, where Google holds the edge with Gmail’s nearly unlimited space and ties to other useful branded services, Microsoft is making a strong push.
Microsoft is moving away from Hotmail (although the service will remain live for a while still) and betting the farm on Outlook.com, its new webmail service with a sleek online interface reminiscent of the experience on Outlook desktop apps.
Outlook.com was launched in late July in preview mode, at which point all existing Hotmail, MSN and Windows Live Mail users were given the option of upgrading to the new service.
Outlook.com’s interface is very intuitive and sleek compared to Hotmail, which was often described as a bit cluttered, but Outlook.com does sacrifice some of its customization possibilities.
The new service boasts several unique features, including Active View, which allows users to interact directly with multimedia content on Outlook.com; “virtual broom” sweep mode for specially configured deletion; aliases; instant actions that appear when the user hovers; and a single-use code for sign-in (source).
Last but not least, it is closely tied to Microsoft’s Office Web Apps and allows you to view and edit Word, Powerpoint and Excel documents attached to email messages and even save them to your SkyDrive. (This is similar to Google’s integration of Gmail and the rest of the Google Apps suite.)
In the future users will even be able to make Skype calls seamlessly from within the Outlook.com interface.
Will Outlook.com Ever Overtake Gmail?
The big question on a lot of people’s minds is whether these flashy new features will be enough to get a critical mass to migrate away from Gmail and back to Microsoft’s territory.
One smaller benefit, as noted by newstoliveby.net, is that at this point most usernames are still available, compared to Gmail where it is notoriously difficult to secure your name after many years of unlimited free accounts for the masses.
And another weakness Microsoft could potentially capitalize on is users’ uneasiness with Google’s practice of scanning through your emails in order to deliver targeted ads, which Microsoft claims it is not doing to serve up its Outlook.com ads.
Overall, it could be the connections to other services that decide who takes on a dominant market share: whether users prefer integration with Microsoft Office Web Apps or Google Apps.
Outlook.com stormed out of the gates, attracting one million users in its first six hours after launch. In late November it broke the 25 million user mark, and is still steadily climbing (source).
Another interesting point to conclude on is the fact that although Gmail claimed to have more registered users than Hotmail, Comscore data suggested that the latter still earned more total web traffic (source). Microsoft’s decision to start a brand-new service was a bold one, and we will have to wait to see how it turns out.