Outlook.com Is Microsoft's Hotmail Reimagined (And You'll Actually Want To Use It)

Microsoft has reimagined and rebranded its existing Hotmail/Windows Live webmail service as Outlook.com, and the result — a Metro-inspired, stripped-back client that's much more like the Outlook desktop client — is impressive. We've long thought Hotmail was a solid email service, and certainly the best alternative to Gmail, but Microsoft steps its game up to a whole new level with Outlook.com.

Outlook is of course already the brand used for the desktop email client in Microsoft Office. It's surprising in a way that Microsoft has waited so long to use the same brand online. Given that Windows 8 sees many of the distinctions between "consumer" and "professional" versions of Microsoft products blurred — the default upgrade option for most people will be Windows 8 Pro — bringing the Outlook brand to webmail certainly makes sense. (We'll refer to the web version as Outlook.com for clarity, but on screen it often appears labelled simply as Outlook.)

The interface is clean and simple, focusing on the email in your inbox. The sidebar and title bars are slim and clutter-free, and even the ads are relatively unobtrusive. Opening an email brings up a very Gmail-like conversation view, you can quickly create labels for any type of message, search using a number of different filters and operators, and navigate the interface easily with keyboard shortcuts. If you don't like the default shortcuts, you can easily switch them to a Gmail- or Yahoo-like system, so you don't have to retrain your muscle memory either.

So what does it offer that's different from existing webmail systems? Outlook.com can sync with your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to grab contact info and photos automatically. Microsoft says integration with Skype accounts will also be added in the future. If you use Outlook on the desktop, Outlook.com will sync with it automatically via Exchange Active Sync. (The interface is quite different to the current Outlook Web Access option businesses can set up for web access to Exchange accounts.)

The inbox has a very cool "Quick Actions" feature (an idea borrowed from the Outlook desktop client) that shows actions like reply or delete when you hover over a message. You can customise which actions appear (though unlike the desktop version, you can't use keyboard shortcuts to access them).

Outlook.com also has well-developed features for handling newsletters and other regular, non-personal email. Outlook.com automatically labels all incoming newsletter-type messages, and even adds an unsubscribe button to the bottom if the newsletter doesn't include one itself. You can also set up your inbox to only keep the newest email from a given sender (very handy for managing daily deal emails). The existing Sweep system, which lets you set up rules for managing email, has been retained and enhanced. As you'd expect, Outlook.com integrates with SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage system, and with Office Web Apps.

If you have an existing Hotmail, Windows Live or Skydrive account, you can hit Outlook.com and sign in to test the new interface. Microsoft officially advises that you need to choose the Upgrade option from the Hotmail options menu, but if you have your password stored in your browser or in a password management system, you may find yourself shifted to the new interface automatically.

One caution: while your old addresses using Hotmail or Live.com domains will continue receiving email and will retain your purchase history for apps or games, some users are reporting that after upgrading they can only sign in using the outlook.com domain.

If you're a happy Gmail user, the mere existence of Outlook.com isn't likely to change your choice. However, if you have friends or relatives who have stuck with Hotmail or Windows Live, there's far less reason than before to encourage them to shift.

Outlook Live.com


    I just signed-in through outlook.com but still taken to the old
    live.com interface. And there is no option to upgrade to outlook

      Me too. Annoying stupid Microsoft. That's why I left them in the first place.

      Have you tried settings or something? It doesn't auto-switch you, you have to manually press a button in the old UI.

    About time Hotmail became a little more intuitive. I think I'll
    wait until it rolls out good and proper, though.

      Sign up early, and get the perfect e-mail address THEN sit back and wait for the fixes

        This is exactly what I have done; captured my online gaming ID's and all variations of my name.

        I like to have control over my identity and online ID's, despite the fact that other people may have the same name - it's easier to try and avoid confusing in the online realm.

    Thanks for this. I'm loving the new interface, but has anyone found
    a way to remove/hide the "ninemsn bar" from the top of the screen?

      Yeah , how the hell did it wind up there anyway.. looks terrible.

      It's also a shame that my hotmail account has for a long time been my spam mail account.

      Ugh, yeah, get rid of that reminder of old Microsoft. Otherwise, woohoo! I've been thinking about shifting to all-Microsoft services instead of Google for a while now, but several obstacles have remained (like crappy Hotmail). Slowly they're being crossed off...

      Yeah, I bloody hate it. Someone please post here if you know how to remove it.

      On Chrome, the ninemsn actually stuffs up the layout of the page (cuts out a little of the very top Outlook bar).

      I hate self promotion, but I was annoyed about it to, so I wrote a Greasemonkey script to take care of it: http://joshhendo.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/outlookcom-in-australia-remove-pesky.html (or direct link to script: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/456202/ninemsn_bar_remover.user.js )

    Just signed up and was super impressed that I was able to get my firstname.lastname as I have a super common name!

    Might switch just for that fact... It is very simple and minimalist, I've been a pretty big fan of Microsoft's push in that direction, so I might consider the serious switch.

    For some reason it won't work with my hotmail.com.au address, but does with my old .com one...

    I think it looks great. I am guessing that the Mail app will look as comprehensive as this does, because the preview at the moment is a little lean. Obviously it won't double up with the messaging and skydrive capabilites, but just a UI shuffle to make viewing multiple email accounts.

    I am really excited for the release of Windows 8 now.

    Over the past two months I've been working towards moving to Hotmail from Gmail (due to Google's privacy changes.) It's a shame I didn't wait just a few more months, since now I want to use my @outlook.com address (though I did manage to get the same username as my @gmail.com address which is good.)

    Just had a play with it, really loving it. I'm already migrated to Gmail due to so many junk mails on my Hotmail that it's not funny.. But I really wish we can bring this features + interface to Gmail somehow. Great work, Microsoft! You really make me feel like switching back

    Loving the new Mail and People interface - Calendar and SkyDrive interfaces are still stuck in Hotmail-style and while I'm very comfortable with that, I'm looking forward to the update!

    One thing that does strike me when switching back and forth between Hotmail and Outlook.com is that as yet in terms of functionality not much looks to have changed. It's like a skin, rather than a functional revamp. But I'm sure that changes will become apparent soon enough, and in the meantime the new Metro-fied look is awesome!

    All of sudden I haven't been able to access my hotmail account (as of last night, Tuesday). Could this have anything to do with the changeover, or have I been hacked? Anyone else experiencing problems?

    For me the main point of using Hotmail was that has allowed me to keep the same email address since the 1990's despite changing jobs, physical address, phone numbers and country umpteen times and being promiscuous with my choice of ISP.

    Keeping such a long term contact address is a very handy thing, and the reason Hotmail is still around is because it works. It is a shame the marketeers have got a hold of Hotmail and look like killing off what was for me, it's primary strength. Yes, we can keep using our old address's but for how long.

    Also, just to keep a good gripe going, this 'socialise everything' bandwagon is a pain in the #[email protected]%. I want to be able to use Hotmail to reset my bank login details from my Android phone in Uzbekistan. Not see mugshots of borderline 'friends' drinking shots.

    Security in Hotmail, like anything, is as good as you make it, in 15+ years my Hotmail has never been compromised, and never let me down. I suspect the bad rap Hotmail gets for spam is more to do with ease of use and popularity.

    I have migrated to Outlook. It started moving my message folders (huge number) into a Hotmail Inbox within Outlook. Then it suddently stopped (freeze). When I stopped the computer and logged in again I foudn that II can't get the majority of my old hotmail message folders now by sigining to my new Outlook or ord Hotmail account. Where has my old messages gone? Any advice please?

    Signed up, can't send an email until I've completed captcha, which failed thrice. Won't verify via my Australian mobile number.
    Love your work microsoft.

    doesn't work so great on my mac book...

    I got 3 emails from one person last night and one email from another. All four emails were run together in one thread. I separated them and replied to all. One person didn't get my reply. I think there are more bugs that need to be ironed out.

    I got the right email name but Outlook is not working. Does anyone know the correct server names, port numbers, ssl settings?? Thanks in advance3

    When using outlook.com, how does one TURN OFF the trail of email history? I want my replies to default to WITHOUT history. Anyone?

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