In the summer of 2012, Gmail stole away Hotmail’s long-standing title as the world’s largest web-based email service. Around that same time, Microsoft released a preview version of Outlook.com, a new service the company promised would “reimagine email.” Today, Outlook.com is out of its preview phase, and Microsoft has announced plans to move, or “upgrade”, each of Hotmail’s 360 million users to the new service by summer 2013.
Hotmail users will experience no disruption in service when transitioned to Outlook.com, and all passwords, messages, folders, and contacts will remain the same. The change can be initiated by users themselves by signing in at Outlook.com. For those concerned about losing their @hotmail email addresses, Microsoft confirmed that while users will have the option to switch to an @outlook.com address, the Hotmail-faithful will be able to keep their old addresses if they want to.
Outlook’s interface includes Sweep, a feature familiar to Hotmail users. In Outlook.com, Sweep helps users keep their inbox manageable with the ability to move or delete all messages from a particular user with a drop down menu command or by automating the action so that the messages never appear in the inbox in the first place. This feature will be highlighted in an upcoming commercial campaign for Outlook. Other features of the new interface include integration with Facebook, Twitter, and Skydrive, as well as the appearance of the Windows 8 Tile interface in a drop down menu at the top of the browser.
Outlook.com may prove to be a make-or-break showcase for Microsoft’s talent at user interface design, as millions of former-Hotmail users will soon be faced with the new interface whether they want it or not. If they feel that the interface lives up to Microsoft’s promise of a cleaner, more intuitive, more social way to conduct email, Outlook is in a prime position to absorb millions of new users into a service that ties closely into other Microsoft properties such as Skydrive , Windows 8 and Bing (ad links for products on Bing Shopping appear in Outlook.com’s sidebar). But if they don’t think the user experience is top notch, some of those former-Hotmail users may do the unthinkable and take their business across the street to Gmail.