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August 1, 2012, 10:09 am UTC
If you're one of the millions of people who are embarrassed to admit that you still have a Hotmail address, your day has come.
325 million Hotmail users will be invited to test out a new Web-based email service called "Outlook," named after Microsoft's other popular email brand.
The new service has integrated with the leading social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, allowing users to communicate with all of these through the single Outlook.com site. That includes Facebook Chat, and, soon, the industry-leading Skype video-calling service.
Microsoft is offering 7GB of free storage through SkyDrive for those signing up to the new email service, and is attempting to turn users away from email attachments to cloud storage. Outlook.com will become a supported option when setting up email on Windows 8, Windows Phone.
Hotmail users will be able to keep their @hotmail.com or @live.com addresses, but new users will only be able to choose between @outlook.com or @live.com email domains.
A unique capability of Outlook.com is that it can view Office documents from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint directly inside the Inbox, using the cloud versions of those applications, called Office Web Apps.
Microsoft is hoping that users who are already familiar with the popular Outlook programme and web application will be keen to use a cleaner looking interface than those used by Google and Yahoo.
Users who choose to connect Outlook.com to Facebook will see more information about their contacts via the social network, in which Microsoft holds shares, and will be able to use other Microsoft web apps to access documents form Word, Powerpoint and Excel. Microsoft is also making the new interface available for touch devices based on Android, Windows Phone and iOS. Existing Hotmail can click “upgrade” to change to the new Outlook interface.
The interface itself is clean and butter smooth, with very nice contextual menus that pop up when you need them, one-click read/unread buttons that show up on rollover, drag-and-drop contact info and more.
Smartphone power users may be delighted to know that this new email service is based on Exchange Active Sync which means that when you set it up as a mail account on your iPhone, BlackBerry or other device, you can get push updates, and as more features roll out, treat it as a bonafide Exchange account.
Finally, Microsoft is taking serious advantage of Skype for the first time in Outlook. If you click on the video chat button with your email contacts, you can start a Skype call .
The move comes from Microsoft soon after 24 million users AOL redesigned its email look.
Outlook.com is open to the public starting today. Once you've got an Outlook.com account, you can import your Gmail account or Exchange account and read all the email in the same inbox, using the same viewing and cleanup tools.
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