Are you a Hotmail user? Microsoft announced a new email service that will replace Hotmail, a product that boasts 325 million customers. Further, the company hopes to woo new users away from Gmail, which is now the most popular email service.
Microsoft named the new product Outlook, after its existing email for business users. That's right, the one you've probably been using at the office.
"There was a perception gap with Hotmail from tech enthusiasts and youth," Windows Live general manager Brian Hall told VentureBeat, a highly regarded tech website. "Many of them wouldn't take a second look at Hotmail and they would say, 'I don't feel comfortable having this next to my name." Hall's sentiment is easy to understand in an online world where emails labeled "hot" can be risky.
"People understand Outlook is mail from Microsoft, so we thought this branding made sense," Hall said.
Web-based email was first introduced with Hotmail in 1996. Back then, it was novel to have a personal email address you could keep for life -- one that was separate from your business or Internet service provider.
Eight years later, Google introduced Gmail, which included 1 GB of storage and inbox search. And while Gmail and other webmail services have added some features since then, not much has changed in webmail over the last few years.
While the new Outlook has many of the more modern features that Microsoft has built into Hotmail, such as the ability to clean up your inbox by sweeping unwanted emails out of the way, the new service does much more. For some, the social media integration may be overwhelming, but most will find the spare layout refreshing and the spam tools effective.
It's worth a try. Microsoft has made a preview version available for download at www.outlook.com.
Alternately, if you have a Hotmail account, you can log in and then select "Upgrade."
If you're starting fresh, you'll be asked for the usual information, including name, phone number (used to send you a one-time passcode in case you forget your password) and an alternate email address or a security question.
For better security, choose a 12-character password. Microsoft suggests you forward your Gmail or other account messages to your new Outlook account, but I'd wait until you settle on a primary email account, especially if you're a Yahoo user -- the company charges $20 a year for forwarding.
With your new @outlook.com account, you'll receive free Word, Excel, and Power-Point web apps built in, along with 7 GB of cloud storage.
Microsoft says your personal conversations aren't used for ads -- a direct jab at Google that does use email to serve up ads that relate to your messages. Outlook is designed to be used on a PC, Mac, phone, and tablet, so that your account syncs across all of the devices you might use for email.
Your inbox will feel familiar. However, to reveal new features, hover your mouse over the word "Outlook" in the upper left corner of the window and then click on the down arrow that appears. Voila! You can now explore People, Calendar and SkyDrive (Microsoft's online storage and syncing center).
People is the place to connect other networks that you've joined with your new Outlook account. The advantage to doing this is that you'll be able to see all of your updates in one place without jumping from one site to another.
You can connect to Face-book, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, and soon, Skype. And remember, the social connections are entirely optional and can be reversed if you find you don't like them.
Calendar and SkyDrive have not yet been updated from Hotmail. For now, you'll have to hit the back arrow to return to Outlook. I'll skip these sections until they've received their makeovers.
Returning to email, Microsoft has included handy categories for classifying your messages, such as bills, documents, family, important and photos, along with the ability to make up your own. You can opt to add any of your categories to the "Quick View" menu found under the standard folders.
One very welcome feature is "Unsubscribe" that appears on the bottom of every newsletter email you receive. Microsoft estimated that about half of emails in a typical user's inbox are newsletters, so if it's time for a clean-up, you can do it in one click.
I'll be interested to hear about your experience with Outlook -- drop me an email at email@example.com and we'll see how it goes.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org.