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BW Businessworld

‘Outlook Has Lots Of Cool Features’

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Microsoft is serious when it says all its products are to change to get a unified look and give users a seamless experience. The most recent overhaul is of its old Hotmail.com. This week, Microsoft surprised the world with its brand new webmail, Outlook.com. Squeaky clean, echoing the Metro look, with the same colours you have on the tiles of your Windows phone, working with Microsoft’s cloud sync and store, SkyDrive, and letting you see and edit office documents, slideshows, videos and social updates online, it is more than a worthy competitor to Gmail, which for many long-time users has reached a state of extreme clutter. It is Windows 8 all over —and it looks good. Brian Hall, general manager, Windows Live Business Group, spoke to BW’s Mala Bhargava on this fresh start for Microsoft’s webmail.


I have signed up at Outlook.com and yes, it looks gorgeous. How has the response been after the first 1 million in six hours? Are people just grabbing email IDs, or are they really beginning to use the new interface? 
We are surprised and impressed by the number of people who are giving it a try. The numbers are impressive for sure. If you look at the feedback on the forums and the articles being written, there are certainly people who are using outlook.com already and, in particular, we are seeing a lot of people who are switching from Gmail to Outlook.com or upgrading from Hotmail.com.
 
But can Hotmail users continue to use their Hotmail accounts, should they choose to? Many, especially in India, are quite attached to their Hotmail IDs. 
Yes, they can. But if they choose to upgrade, they can go to Options and select Outlook, but we’re not pushing today, in any way, for people to upgrade from Hotmail to Outlook. There are a lot of people who like Hotmail and are attached to their Hotmail IDs. The good news is that if you have a Hotmail account, you can upgrade to Outlook and still keep using the Hotmail ID. But the main reason is that Outlook.com is in the preview stage currently and we’re looking at the set of features users want so that we can make an email service that is designed for a billion-plus users. We know that over time, many Hotmail users will choose to upgrade to Outlook, and at some point, we’ll upgrade everyone to Outlook. But for now we’re trying to learn from a new set of users and incorporate their feedback into the service. 
 
India is a really interesting market to look at for Hotmail. It was started by Indian nationals and was adopted by Indian users incredibly fast and, for a while, India had one of the largest number of Hotmail users. But at the same time, around 2006, users in India moved to Gmail. A lot of that was because at that time Hotmail did let too much spam through. Of all the mail in the Inbox, 35 per cent was spam. And so the reputation of Hotmail in 2006 was clearly bad. If you fast forward to 2012, the spam protection in Hotmail was recently rated as stronger than that of Gmail and it was down to less than 3 per cent of the email that got through to the Inbox. And so, today, we have technology that we developed for both Hotmail and Exchange that is the best spam preventer.  But people who used Hotmail a while ago haven’t been able to experience that. Also, many Hotmail users had their accounts for a long time and their addresses were often picked up by spammers and those who send newsletters. With Outlook.com, we’re confident that with the technology we now have to filter spam and the fresh start with new email addresses, users will have a better experience.
 
Hotmail users can certainly choose to continue using their Hotmail ID and create aliases, the mail for which will go into separate folders.
 
FAST FACTS
Hotmail
Launched on 4 July 1996

Founders
Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith

Taken Over
Microsoft bought it in 1997

New Beginnings
On 31 July 2012, Microsoft announced a preview of Outlook.com, which will, in due course of time, replace Hotmail
Outlook.com sounds more businesslike and more elegant than Hotmail.com…
When we asked people what they thought would be the best email address for Microsoft, they said Outlook. People know that it is professional and that it is from Microsoft and designed to be first class. I am confident that Outlook.com will have significantly more cache than Hotmail.com or even Gmail.
 
What happens to some of the other IDs from Microsoft? Like msn.com.
It’s similar to Hotmail.com in that if you want to continue to use that ID, you can, or you can upgrade it to Outlook and all of that email you get at msn.com, you can bring into Outlook.com, in its own folder. You can create folders for all of these other IDs.  Moving forward, we want as many people as possible to choose Outlook.com because it’s such a great brand, but we’re not going to say you can’t keep getting email at your other email address if you like it.  We understand that most people who are online today for a long time have multiple email addresses. In India, most people have a Hotmail and a Gmail account and Outlook.com does a great job of letting you get your mail from these in the same Inbox. You can respond from those or from an Outlook.com address.

What is the thinking that shaped the design of Outlook.com? 
Our focus was on having the cleanest email experience that we could create. And so if you look at the Outlook experience, all of the focus goes into letting you see your email easily and (for you) to handle as many messages (as) quickly as possible. At the same time, we were looking forward, and knowing that the world is moving away from simple webmail to a world where we use our email on a smartphone, on a tablet, in PC applications as well as on the web, we built a design which is harmonious across all of those devices, and that works well with touch in particular. We’ve taken the core design principles from Windows 8 and Windows phone and used them so that no matter what device you’re on, it feels similar and beautiful. 
 
Why is there no tasks list in Outlook.com? 
It works a little bit differently from how you think of tasks or to-do lists in Outlook, the application. What we’ve found is that in personal life, to-do lists are much simpler. Essentially, you have a set of things you know you need to get to.
 
So, we have something called “Flags” and when you flag an email, it automatically goes to the top of your Inbox and stays there. If you connect our Outlook.com and Outlook application, it shows up as a task. And one of the cool features we have in Outlook.com is that you can set rules. For instance, I have a rule that says whenever I get email from myself, it automatically flags it, because I’m sending it as a reminder to do something. 
 
Outlook.com is missing a mail prioritisation feature. Do you plan to bring that in?
It’s very easy in Outlook.com to see what you choose to. In your Inbox, you can choose to view whatever’s unread, mail from contacts, newsletters, or social updates. 
 
If you’re using an iPhone or an Android, they support ActiveSync so that you can have your email pushed to that. If you use Gmail, the priority Inbox only works with Gmail. When you’re on your phone, you don’t see that unless you get a special Gmail app that may not be as good as the mail client that your phone or iPad comes with. We make it really easy to ensure that what you don’t want in your Inbox isn’t there. So, if I select, say, a golf newsletter that I signed up for, I can select the newsletter messages and set to work so that from now on no other email from this sender will stay in my Inbox. I can also automatically send them to another folder. 
 
break-page-break
 

How does Outlook.com work with other applications? 

I use Outlook, the application, a lot. But I connect it to Outlook.com so that all my contacts are there and this helps me see mail from both my work life and my personal life and that’s a function I think people will enjoy a lot. 
 
What is your favourite feature of Outlook.com? Because there are a lot of features despite its minimalistic looks. 
When I select two messages, the bar on the top changes because, obviously, I wouldn’t want to reply to two different email messages. Instead, there are other options that Outlook.com offers. If I click on a friend’s email, as you can see, I can see his picture, his latest post on Twitter, and so we’ve taken the best of the social networks that people actually use, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and connected them. 
 
Are there any other features that are under the covers and not so obvious? 
There are lots of cool features. For instance, if I get email with pictures, if I open one of them, I can see that there’s a SkyDrive album; and if someone sends me an email with attachments of pictures, I can see them as a slideshow.
 
Another such feature is the keyboard shortcuts.  You can even use Gmail shortcuts with Outlook.com mail. We’ve added all the power tools that people would expect. 
 
Why does Outlook.com not have an IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) support? 
Protocol support is interesting. We have support for the most advanced protocol, which is Exchange ActiveSync. We will have an app for wherever ActiveSync is not supported. The one thing that we don’t support today but clearly what a lot of people want is sync on a native mail client on a Mac, so we’re definitely looking at adding IMAP support. 
 
What other features are coming to Outlook.com?
One will be that before we come out of preview, you will be able to chat with an email contact via Facebook chat and do a Skype video or voice call from within Outlook. 
 
Will you allow third-party add-ins?
Well, today we connect with social networks like Facebook. We’ve heard some feedback that people want add-ins and we’ll look at it, but there are very few add-ins that more than a small percentage of people use, but we’ll look hard at all of them. We want power users to use Outlook.com too. 
 
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 13-08-2012)