Microsoft's newly revamped Outlook.com free email service is now available to all users, some seven months after it was introduced in a limited preview mode to replace Hotmail, Microsoft's longtime email offering.
With the new and refreshed Outlook.com service and its updated and friendlier user features, Microsoft hopes to continue to lure users over from Gmail and other services. In the last six months alone, 60 million people have signed up to use new Outlook.com email accounts, according to a Feb. 18 post on the Outlook Blog by David Law, director of product management for Outlook.com.
"Last summer, we released a preview of Outlook.com, a new modern email service from Microsoft," wrote Law. "Since then, we've been humbled by the fast pace of adoption with over 60 million people already actively using Outlook.com. During the same period, we've received lots of feedback and made many improvements. Today, we're excited to announce the next step in this journey: Outlook.com is coming out of preview, and people everywhere can get started and give it a try at Outlook.com."
Microsoft will transition all Hotmail.com user accounts over to Outlook.com accounts by this summer, according to Law's post.
"We've been very excited by the adoption of the preview and how it's delivering on our promise of a new, reimagined email service," Law wrote. "Throughout the preview, we learned a tremendous amount from seeing how people used the service. Early adopters have told us what they liked, what they'd like to see next, and what we needed to do to make more people switch. And we've used that to add new features and fine-tune the services to scale."
Microsoft announced the coming changes in a blog post July 31, 2012, to share its vision for the new Hotmail replacement with a reimagined look, feel and feature set. Coming eight years after Google introduced its now-entrenched Gmail product, the new Outlook.com is designed for "the next billion mailboxes," according to Microsoft.
Among the key new features of Outlook.com are a fresher and intuitive experience on modern browsers and devices, tighter integration with social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and smarter and more powerful inboxes to handle the email needs of users, including SkyDrive for sharing virtually anything in a single email.
Outlook.com also includes new tools for handling newsletters and commercial mail, as well as a new feature called Sweep that helps users clear out their inbox by moving, archiving, or deleting specific email, according to Law's post. "Outlook.com was also designed to make it easy to send hundreds of photos, videos and just about everything people want in a single message—all powered by SkyDrive. Nearly half of the people using Outlook.com have already used SkyDrive to share more than half a billion photos and Office documents."
Users of old Hotmail accounts will have all of their contacts, emails, folders and passwords transferred to the new Outlook.com service, but they can retain their old Hotmail.com email addresses if they desire, according to Law. "When upgraded, they'll also get all the benefits from the redesigned Outlook.com experience—a fresh and intuitive user interface, lots of new features and better performance."
As part of a public relations campaign to promote the new Outlook.com accounts, Microsoft will spend between $30 million and $90 million over three months to market the services, according to a story from The Associated Press.
A Google spokeswoman declined a request for comment from eWEEK.
For Microsoft, taking on Gmail could still be an uphill climb. Gmail claims to have more than 425 million active user accounts worldwide and has already been offering many of the same kinds of features that Outlook.com is just incorporating, such as the ability to send very large attachments up to 10GB in size.
And Microsoft isn't just taking on Gmail, of course. Outlook.com will also try to lure users from Yahoo, AOL and other free email providers.
This is the first major refresh of the 16-year-old Hotmail product.
For Microsoft, the question is whether the updates and relaunch as Outlook.com will be enough to bring in new users and capture a bigger chunk of the email marketplace.
Meanwhile, Gmail hasn't been sitting on the sidelines. Last October, Google expanded the Gmail user interface to allow multiple messages to be composed at once, which resolved a longstanding Gmail shortcoming. Also in October, Google expanded a "field trial" it began in August 2012 that lets users try out a new service—the ability to find their information faster when searching, whether the information is in a Google Search or even buried somewhere in the user's Gmail account.