Microsoft on Tuesday announced that it will replace its aging webmail service Hotmail with a new service called Outlook.com that provides a more modern take on connected email, contacts, and calendar management. Available today in preview form, Outlook.com provides a new Metro-style UI similar to that of Windows 8 apps, as well as numerous new features.
“We think the time is right to re-imagine personal email, from the data center to the user experience,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President Chris Jones said. “So today we’re introducing a preview of Outlook.com.”
As with its Surface tablet devices, Outlook.com takes a legacy Microsoft brand name—Outlook—and reapplies it to a new product. In this case, Microsoft considered other options but realized that most people think of “Outlook” when they think Microsoft email. More important, the connotations are almost always positive. So in retrospect—like with Surface—the new/old name makes plenty of sense.
The service itself is excellent. As I note in my three-part preview of Outlook.com—please refer to Outlook.com Mail: Microsoft Reimagines Webmail, Outlook.com People: Microsoft Reimagines Contacts, and Outlook.com + SkyDrive: Microsoft Reimagines Cloud Storage for much more information—the new services combines everything that was right about Hotmail with some new features, and then it loses the name no one seemed to like. The result is email and contacts services (calendar will be updated later) that look beautiful and work efficiently, and integrate nicely with other Microsoft products and services, including SkyDrive and the Office Web Apps.
Outlook.com borrows the Metro-style look and feel from Windows 8 and takes it to the next level, adding features you can’t even find in the Metro-style Mail and People apps in that upcoming new OS. For example, Outlook.com Mail looks a lot like the Metro Mail app, but it supports drag-and-drop message management, social networks integration, and other features lacking in Windows 8.
More features are coming in later updates to the preview service, too. Microsoft will integrate Skype into Outlook.com (so users can make Skype audio, video, or text chats from the web without installing a native client application), as well as presence (online/offline) integration. This will work for users’ contacts using Skype on Windows or other platforms, Skype on the web, Skype on Facebook, or Skype integrated into Outlook 2013, Microsoft told me.
If you're currently using Hotmail, you can switch to the new service or you can visit outlook.com to start a new Outlook.com-based Microsoft account. Microsoft tells me that it will phase in Outlook.com over time and then, later, phase out the old Hotmail interface.