Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Posted by Saad Hashmi at 1:12 PM —
Microsoft has finally killed Hotmail...sort of.
Today the company surprised the tech world by releasing a public preview of Outlook.com, an all-new webmail client that Microsoft calls their 'modern email' experience. In this case, modern can mean a lot of things but the driving force of change in the release is the full embrace of Metro. (If you've used the Windows 8 preview builds at all, it should look quite familiar to the operating system's native client.)
A paint job isn't all Outlook.com has to brag about, though. More details, including our first impressions, continued after the break.
The new webmail client also offers a ton of other features including native social networking integration with a myriad of services supported (everything from Facebook to China's Sina microblogging). In practice, these behave much in the same way as you would probably be used to Windows Phone's People Hub, focusing on the People and linking together all of their disparate online entities. Also, while you're emailing a contact you can see their recent social media updates in a right pane, encouraging you to interact. Speaking of contacts, the new interface for the address book is now the People web app, which also borrows its look from the Windows 8 native app.
Social isn't just as boring as looking at status updates though, which is where the most interesting innovations in Outlook.com can be found. The new web-based email experience includes a riff on the Messaging Hub features of Windows Phone, which means you can chat with friends on Facebook and Messenger directly from your inbox. In case you were wondering where a certain video-chat service plays a hand in all of this, we won't delay any longer: Skype is going to be built-in to Outlook.com in the future. Presumably this means Skype chat will be one of the options in Messaging, and from there you can instantly jump into a video call from your browser. Sweet!
We've noticed a lot of other things many sites haven't discussed yet. For one, emails have finally received a conversation view which allows you to expand/collapse past messages in a single, easy to read thread. For another, Outlook.com isn't just available on the desktop or tablet -- it's also available in a smartphone-friendly website (pictured). The view is mostly identical to the Hotmail mobile website, although visually it's easier on the eyes. Finally there's the ability to select accent colors for the full-sized interface, which changes the color of the main bar on top as well as all of the link colors (which is a nice touch).
Interested in checking it out? Go ahead and visit Outlook.com for yourself and you can mess around with the new interface by logging in with your current Microsoft account. There are also @outlook.com email addresses available for you to claim, but there's an asterisk attached to that if you have a Windows Phone. Switching your primary account to an @outlook.com address will require a hard reset of your phone, so instead of swapping over you should instead go into the "More Mail Settings" and select "Choose an Outlook alias". That way you can claim an awesome new address, but you won't have to reset your phone.
It's a hassle, we know. But trust us, it's worth it. Check it out now, and feel free to watch the 3-minute walkthrough video included below.