Microsoft’s new Outlook.com e-mail, designed as an eventual replacement to Hotmail, is a free browser-based service and sports a strikingly simple interface, Skydrive and social media integration, and lots of tweaks both new and familiar. And with a promise of “virtually unlimited” storage , it should satisfy the most prolific writers and media consumers.
In its reviewer’s guide, Microsoft calls the Outlook.com design “modern,” “clean,” and “fresh.” Straight lines and right angles make for a distinctly minimal experience devoid of chunky elements. Your only chance at personalization is changing the color of the main Commands bar at the top of the screen. That and other Settings options are accessible through the Gmail-like cogwheel icon in the top right corner.
Outlook.com has “instant action” commands that appear only when you mouse over a message. When you do, you’ll see small gray icons for marking a message as unread, flagging it, or deleting it completely. The one-click access is certainly convenient, and you can replace the default icons with other actions such as marking the message as junk.
Flagging messages will send them to the top of your inbox in a separate section, which you can hide if you’d like. Mousing over the sender’s name shows a pop-up menu with commands for sending an e-mail to the contact, scheduling a cleanup , finding all e-mails from the sender, moving those messages, or deleting them completely.
On the far left of the inbox is a column for accessing default (Junk, Sent, and Draft) and user-created folders. To move messages into a folder, just drag it into a folder or check the box and use the related command at the top of the screen. Below your Folders list is a Quick View section for further organizing your messages into categories. Though e-mails assigned to a category will remain in your inbox (unlike with Folders) you can view them as a group by clicking the category name.
Outlook.com has a filtering system that will automatically detect and categorize e-mails with photos or documents attached and any message containing a shipping tracking number.
Reading and sending messages
After opening a message the commands bar at the top of the screen will display only the relevant actions like reply, delete, or mark as junk. You can jump directly to adjacent messages with the arrows on the top right of the screen, and a separate “Actions” pull-down menu brings options like printing and viewing the sender’s details. Like Gmail, Outlook will group messages together for threaded conversations. You can turn this feature off, but keep in mind that it will increase the number of messages in your inbox.
If a message comes from a familiar sender, Outlook.com will display photos directly in the body of the e-mail. You then can open a quick slideshow, download the images individually, or save them as a group. Just remember that you will need Microsoft Silverlight. Likewise, video links from YouTube will surface a video player where you can watch the clip without leaving the e-mail and HTML messages. And thanks to Office Web apps integration, you can open, share, and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.
Besides 7GB of cloud storage, the Skydrive integration is supposed to allow for up to 300MB of attachments per message. The Skydrive integration is inherited from Hotmail.
Sending a message is a simple process. Just click on the + sign at the top of the screen and start writing. When adding recipients, you’ll see a list of contacts you e-mail frequently, and the autocomplete feature will make suggestions as you type.
With Outlook.com, Microsoft is promising new levels of spam management. First off, the company is making a distinction between obvious spam or junk mail and what it calls “graymail.” These are messages like newsletters, daily deals, or special announcements from online retailers. Since management of the second group isn’t always clear cut, you’re offered a couple of tools beyond the usual solution of creating rules for filters. With the Schedule Cleanup option, for example, you can tell Outlook.com to delete all messages from the sender before a certain date or delete all of them at once.
Standard spam protection includes the ability to set a junk mail filter, block anything from an unknown sender, or designate messages as a phishing scan. In all three cases, Microsoft says it will block all future messages from the sender and it will attempt to unsubscribe you from mailing lists. There’s even an option for alerting Microsoft if you feel a friend’s e-mail has been hacked.
People hub and Skype
Outlook.com follows Windows 8 and Windows Phone in using a People hub to manage your contacts. The Metro-influenced interface and commands will be familiar, and you can personalize each contact with a full range of text fields (company, address, nickname, etc.) and a photo. Of course, you also can link your Outlook.com account with various social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Flicker, and LinkedIn.
Other features include the integration of keyboard shortcuts from Gmail and Outlook Desktop, autocomplete when searching your inbox, autoforwarding, message archiving, and vacation alerts. You also can rename your e-mail address, recover deleted messages, create an Outlook.com alias, and save the contents of a chat thread or a new message.