Microsoft has been busy reimagining personal email, the software giant announced July 31, sharing a preview of Outlook.com.
The site, arriving 16 years after Webmail was first introduced with Hotmail, and eight years after Google introduced Gmail, is said to be a "modern" take on email, designed for "the next billion mailboxes."
"Email is becoming less and less useful as inboxes become cluttered with newsletters and social updates, and people increasingly keep up their personal connections in social networks instead of their email address books," Microsoft's Chris Jones wrote in a July 31 blog post. "All of this has led many to hope for a better solution so you don't have to settle for today's webmail."
What does a modern email solution entail, then?
¢ For starters, it has a minimalist aestheticthe header has 60 percent fewer pixels and 30 percent more messages are visible in the inbox, compared to the webmail most people are used to, according to Microsoft.
¢ It uses Exchange ActiveSync, so there's a similar, and updated, experience across a user's smartphone, tablet and desktop.
¢ It's the first email service to connect directly to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and, eventually, Skype. This is said to keep your social networks and contact lists better up-to-date, as well as to lessen the burden of dealing with email. Outlook.com automatically sorts contacts, newsletters, shipping updates and social updates from messages, making it easier to get to exactly what you want.
¢ It includes free Office Web AppsWord, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNoteso users can view and edit attachments without leaving the inbox.
¢ It includes SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud-based file storage and sharing service. "If you're sending photos, documents or just about any other file, you can now put them on SkyDrive and stop worrying about attachment limits," writes Jones.
¢ Emails are privateneither messages nor attachments are scanned for content to share with advertisers.
¢ It has an inbox with "virtually unlimited storage" and spam protection. As has come to be expected, it's also free.
Users can sign up for an address at Outlook.com, as well as set up the service on Windows Phone, iOS, Android or BlackBerry smartphones, and Windows 8, iOS and Android-running tablets.
The timing of the Outlook.com preview makes good sense, as it follows Microsoft's announcements that it has also reimagined Windows Live, creating cloud-based services for Windows 8 and Windows Phone, and preceeds its launch of its first Microsoft-branded tablet, the Surface.
With Windows 8, Microsoft will begin offering the first of its Surface tablets Oct. 26. It will also launch Windows Phone 8 during the fourth quarter, on phones from partners Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Huaweiand, analysts say, receive particular support from the wireless carriers, which are anxious to lessen their support on the iPhone and high-end Android devices.
Microsoft, in its quest to at least catch up to Apple, has no doubt been hard at work, assembling all the components necessary to establish "significant scale," as it said in a July filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission that offered an overview of where it stands and where it hopes to go.
"The strategic importance of a vibrant ecosystem increases," Microsoft wrote, "as we launch the Windows 8 operating system, Surface devices and associated cloud-based services."