Seems odd to say since I have been on every version of Outlook since version 1.0. That was back before calendaring and email were integrated. For scheduling you had a little software program called schedule +. You could always tell old timers at Microsoft because when you were talking to someone about setting up a potential meeting they would always say “Sched + me”. Now Microsoft has finally decided to replace Hotmail by renaming it and updating it to Outlook. I have had my Hotmail account for over ten years and during that time it has become old and outdated and frankly really hard to manage. I also have a gMail account which I do not use very much so this is a chance to stat anew and see if I will stay with Outlook or start migrating to gMail. Lets take a look at the new “cloud” based email service from Microsoft, both mostly good and some, in my view, iffy decisions.
First off the UI is cleaned up immensely. I should say that I don’t mean its brand new in its layout, but it is softer in its appearance and simplified. The thing about UI’s are it’s not necessarily about being bold it’s a fine art. Google Search is a good example of something simple and appealing to the eye. At the same token I will say gMail will look busy and cluttered compared to Outlook. One thing I really liked was deleting email. In Hotmail I always found myself scrolling up or down to delete an email or series of emails. With Outlook delete is only on top and only appears when I check a box (when I check a box all my options appear reply, delete, junk, etc..). A very simple and elegant way of cleaning up the user interface. I also like when I mouse over an email it provides a delete bucket icon so if I know it’s just an email I will never read I can easily delete. It also (like gMail) has consolidated conversation threads, which was a must and a welcome change. This is one feature I will add “it is about time!!”. I really like it but did it take so long? In any case glad to have it.
When I go to People I am first greeted with the now standard do you want to pull all your Facebook Friend, Twitter Followers, LinkedIn contacts to Outlook. I have to admit maybe there is an advantage to this but the way I interact with Social Networking, to me at least, highlights the advantage of the modern browser and multi-tab browsing. I also do not want 500+ FB contacts and 800+ Linked in contacts imported into People and then synched to my iPhone..However it does do some integration by default and like the inbox the contact info is very clean and non-intrusive. The basic integration with Facebook is nice in that it does not clutter my interface. Even though I may not use it it’s done in a way that is again very clean in its approach. Next to email, People is the most important thing I access and manage on a regular basis. The name change? I am OK with it, however when asked I will still say “let me look at my contacts”, I do not foresee someone asking me, “Can you find Joe’s phone number”. I respond with, “Let me look it up in my people”. Sounds weird. But if Microsoft wants to replace contacts with people, I can live with that.
The calendar is not much different from its predecessor. When you think of calendars either in digital or print has the basic form changed much in the last 500 years? That being said it was the one area I felt that I was no longer in Outlook but back in Hotmail. The look and feel are not what I experience in the rest of Outlook but brings me back to where I came from. It almost makes me think did they run out of time to meet a deadline? My hope is this gets cleaned up to look more like the rest of Outlook as so far I like what I have seen in the rest of Outlook. there are thousands of calendar templates on the market I would think they could have found and licensed one that was better than what they ended up with.
Then there is the name. There is no question new and young users seem attracted to and attached to gMail and that Hotmail had become old and outdated. If I have been critical of Microsoft about one thing it would have to be their mismanaged sales and marketing efforts. As I said about the Nokia Lumia adds and the effort to tie in Office with Windows Mobile, no kid wants a phone they can do homework on. With the name Outlook we are now tying my internet email with my corporate email. As I said at the start I have had and loved every version of Outlook since v1.0. However if you want to attract new and younger users, well image is everything. That being said there were three options:
- Keep Hotmail (or MSN)
- Use Outlook and its established reputation
- New name
If I had to decide I probably would have stuck with Hotmail. As I think a new name would have been just another brand for Microsoft to manage. Maybe Bing Mail? No easy answers on this one, I am just a bit leery of using Outlook as the brand, especially if you are trying to attract a younger audience.
So what is my overall verdict? Overall I really like the new Outlook. I could go to gMail but why? Compared to Outlook gMail looks cluttered and old. I think they did a great job in simplifying the UI for email and people. The calendar is in need of a makeover, but top be honest I do not use that feature too much. I liked the new Contacts set up and overall I find the experience enjoyable. I will say in composing anew email moving the To:, CC, and BCC, to the left pane is taking some getting used to but not really a big deal. In the end too much headache to move and I find Outlook a better experience anyway. I am and will remain a Microsoft internet mail user.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann August 7, 2012