Look Out IT, Hotmail Will Soon Be Outlook.com

Out With The Old

Microsoft is pulling the plug on Hotmail, replacing it with something called Outlook.com, an old name for a new service. Anyone who observes IT trends in general and Microsoft in particular had to see this coming; Redmond has been pouring tons of resources into Office 365 -- the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and, of course, Outlook. It just makes sense to tie them all together. The Outlook.com announcement came on Tuesday.

For people who use Hotmail, the change will take some getting used to. Fortunately, nothing has to be done right away, and current Hotmail users will be migrated automatically. But, once the transition takes place, there will be a lot to see and know about Outlook.com operations. Here are some of the highlights.

Inbox Flattery

Nothing against red sneakers, but we're betting you're glad to be looking at Outlook.com's new inbox and not that guy from the previous slide. The CRN Test Center has been evaluating Office 365 for a few weeks now, and we've grown somewhat accustomed to the flat, chalky interface of the Metro-style application, with its immersive, full-screen experience and integration with other apps and social networks.

This segment of Outlook.com has folders and views listed in flat panes that are almost completely free of scroll bars and other windowy trappings. Creating new folders and messages takes but a single click. The new inbox layout looks remarkably like that of Gmail's. In fact, the similarities continue...

Gmail Vs. Outlook.com

Shown here are ads from Microsoft's Outlook.com and Google's Gmail. Can you tell which is which? HINT: The ads on one side include the word "Bing." With Outlook.com, Microsoft skews the placement of ads in the body of an email for Gmail-like ads to be placed along the right-hand edge of the inbox.

Weird. We could have sworn that not long ago Microsoft lampooned Google for mining email data to determine which ads to run. Hey, nothing wrong with embracing a winning model.

Forced Cleanup

Here's a feature that IT departments will appreciate, particularly ones tasked with containing storage costs. Outlook.com implements a scheduled cleanup feature that automatically deletes messages based on age and other factors.

Socially Connected

Just this very day, a colleague suggested that the ability to "Like" an email (rather than replying to it) would save lots of time. I agreed, and speculated that it would one day happen. That day is apparently here, and Microsoft is the one making it so.

Outlook.com integrates with Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites so that presence info, status updates, newsfeeds and the like will appear in the app in varying degrees at your discretion. You can comment, like, repost, share and retweet directly from Outlook.com -- no need to leave its warm and fuzzy confines. There's also a direct link between Facebook chat and Messenger; Skype integration is promised later.

Temporary Bonds

Along with the ability to connect with social networks is the ability to disconnect automatically. We favor this feature for several reasons, not the least of which is the shared nature of the email client. Who hasn't sat down at a public machine for several hours of work? By making links automatically expire, Outlook.com can be used with maximum social connectivity without fear of leaving lasting links behind.

Microsoft will add features and integrations to Outlook.com over time.