Say goodbye to Hotmail (as you know it) and hello to Outlook.com, Microsoft's new personal email service that launched in preview form on Tuesday. To listen to Microsoft describe it, Outlook.com represents "the first major improvement to cloud mail in eight years," and is yet another reimagined cloud service as Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 roll into view. It's "modern email designed for the next billion mailboxes." Marketing hype aside, just what exactly is Outlook.com all about?
Outlook.com is a cloud service with a diminished emphasis on the browser. It's Hotmail renamed and rebuilt with a new interface, new features, and social integration. Microsoft paid a ton of attention to the UI and cleaned up the clutter with 60 percent fewer pixels in the header, making room for 30 percent more messages visible in your inbox, and there are no display ads or large search boxes that take up extra space (there are, however, Bing Shopping ads in a column on the right).
The revamped service uses Exchange ActiveSync, so it can power your mail, calendar, and contacts, and maintain a consistent look and feel across desktop, tablet, and smartphone devices. It's also connected to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google, with Skype support just around the corner. Connecting to a social network is completely optional, and Microsoft vows never to scan your email content or attachments to send to advertisers or any other company. Office Web Apps (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote) are included so you can view and edit attachments within your inbox, and so is SkyDrive.
Microsoft might be on to something with Outlook.com, and at the very least, curiosity has piqued the Internet community. According to Microsoft's Outlook.com Twitter account, a million people signed up for a new mail account within a few hours of the preview going live.