Microsoft may have been one of the first movers when they acquired Hotmail back in the 1990s, eventually renaming it to Outlook.com after a brief diversion to Windows Live. It's been updated yet again, with Outlook.com switching to a new look this week after a period of testing. Here's what's changed?
Microsoft has decluttered the Outlook.com interface. It retains the folders on the left and previews on the right layout that most mail clients work with but uses clean fonts and lots of white space so things are easy to find and read.
That appearance reflects the mission Microsoft set out with this update. The focus of the new Outlook is on simplifying the user experience while retaining power features.
You can easily customise the look through the Settings menu to add a preview tab or change the message sort order.
At the bottom of the left pane, where the folder list is displayed, there are buttons so you can quickly toggle between Mail, Calendar and People. But the ellipsis adjacent to them reveals options for Files and Tasks. Or, you can drag the left pane to make it wider so there's no ellipsis and you get one-click access.
Tasks takes advantage of Microsoft's acquisition of Wunderlist, with a simple, interface that supports multiple lists, drag and drop for organising things and the ability to prioritise specific tasks.
One thing I found annoying was the function of the "My Day" list. I had items in another list scheduled for today that didn't appear. It would be neat if the My Day pulled together tasks from multiple lists rather than relying on me managing that myself.
The new Files option is a great idea and, potentially, a huge time saver. I spend a lot of time searching for specific file attachments in email. But the Files menu provides a single place where all those attachments are stored together.
It's worth noting that Microsoft encountered some issues with the Files menu so it may not be available to everyone just net. Here, in the Lifehacker office, I had access to it but one of my colleagues couldn't see it yet. But it's coming.
One of the things that Microsoft has changed since Satya Nadella took over is the company's willingness to work with other services. While Microsoft's OneDrive is a competent online storage solution, you can also connect Outlook.com to Box, Dropbox, Facebook and Google Drive to make attaching files and images from those services easy.
The web-based Outlook.com can also hook-up with up to 20 external email accounts so you don't have to toggle between multiple email services if you want to keep everything in one place.
Email management works as you'd expect. I liked the "Sweep" option as it makes it easy to clear your inbox of messages. It's basically an automated rule creator. But there's also a traditional rules system that allows you define a condition and action to automate email management.
My main criticism of the web-baed interface is that each time you use the buttons on the left side to switch between Mail, To Do, Files and the other options is that it opens a new browser tab by default.
Microsoft's refresh of Outlook.com has modernised the look and reinforces the company's focus on productivity rather than cramming in dozens of new features.