The days are numbered for Hotmail.
Microsoft announced it will close the 16-year-old service -- one of the original free, Web-based email services -- and move users to the new Outlook (not to be confused with Microsoft's corporate email product, which goes by the same name) by this summer.
The move could leave as many as 360 million customers wondering if Outlook is the best choice, or if it's time to switch to Gmail, with its 425 million or so users.
But don't make a decision based on popularity; unlike with social media, it doesn't really matter if your friends use the same email service as you. Instead, consider features: You may be surprised to learn that Microsoft's Outlook differs from Gmail in several important ways, offering more privacy than you can get with Gmail. Here are three advantages that come from choosing Outlook:
No targeted ads
Remember the outrage that accompanied Google's changes to its terms of service? Targeted ads were nothing new, nor was Google's automated scanning of email contents to find terms that could be used to display related ads. (For instance, if you wrote to your cousin in Detroit about an upcoming visit, you might then see ads in your Gmail window from stores in the Motor City.) But after the new policy came into effect, your activity across Google services was combined, giving the Internet giant a potentially larger pool of data to draw from. While Microsoft has the same pooled-data policy, it does not display ads in Outlook.
An alias email account is one that you set up with a different name. While that may sound a little fishy, there's a good reason to do it. It's a more efficient, and safer, way to deal with newsletters and other communications that you request, but would like to keep separate from your regular email. For example, a message might not be spam because you asked to receive it, but over time, company communications feel a lot like junk mail. Further, you can delete an alias at any time without jeopardizing your contact list. Gmail used to offer alias email accounts, but no longer.
Outlook, on the other hand, welcomes alias addresses. In fact, you can continue to use your Hotmail address and create an @Outlook.com alias as well. And, you can make as many alias accounts as you wish.
Some people like to see social media-related information from the people they are communicating with. In Gmail, it's all about Google+. When you open email from contacts, you can add them to your Google+ circles and go directly to Google+ pages if your contacts have them.
Outlook connects users to a much bigger network, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Contacts can be imported to Outlook and will be automatically updated when people change their social media profiles. If you opt to do this, you'll see publicly available profile photos and names when you receive an email from these people. You can also chat via Facebook messenger from your Outlook inbox. Facebook friend requests and Twitter follows are also available inside your inbox. However, you can opt out of all social media integration if you prefer to keep your email secluded.
For many, learning a new service presents the biggest obstacle. Microsoft has opened a three-month window for you to make the change yourself. To ease the transition, Microsoft will automatically import your contacts and allow you to keep your Hotmail address.
Here's how to make the switch:
* Go to Hotmail.com and, before you log in, select the link "Upgrade to Outlook."
* Your inbox will then open as the new Outlook.
* Open the "What's New" email from the Outlook team. Decide whether you want to replace your Hotmail address with an @Outlook address, which means you'll rename your account, or create an Outlook alias that can be used along with your Hotmail address. Directions are included for each choice.
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 email@example.com.