(MoneyWatch) Microsoft (MSFT) last week rolled out a new Web-based email service: Outlook.com. Outlook is a big deal, both for the software giant and for anyone who uses Web mail.
Rather than continuing to try to update the aging and (justifiably) maligned Hotmail service, Microsoft decided to start fresh. Outlook is a whole new Web mail service, and it's an impressive product that deserves your attention. Really, I can't overstate how cool and useful the new Outlook is. It's Web mail done right, and is in most ways a significant improvement over Google's Web mail offering, Gmail. Currently, I'm actually forwarding my Gmail to Outlook because I prefer the new service. Here are my top five reasons you should consider trying it yourself.
1. It has a simple, clean interface. Outlook uses the mostly white, simple user-interface that is familiar to anyone who has been keeping an eye on the modern Metro apps in Windows 8 and Windows Phone. The design is refreshingly uncluttered, and the streamlined UI means there's more screen estate available for actual email. Moreover, it's easy to use, and requires very little exploration and experimentation to get the hang of it.
2. You'll never run out of space. This could well be the coolest -- and most unexpected -- feature. Unlike all other email services, there's no practical limit to how much storage and attachment space you have with Outlook. Your storage space grows with your needs, for example, so you should never run out of room to store old email (Gmail caps you at 10GB, in contrast). And Outlook lets you send attachments up to 300GB in size. That's right, 300GB. No one else even come close.
3. Outlook is content aware. Microsoft managed to do some impressive things in Outlook, not the least of which is build in powerful, yet subtle, content-awareness. So you can filter your email according to messages with document attachments or photos -- both attached photos and links to photos. Suppose, for example, you get a link to a Flickr photo. Outlook can show the photos in the body of the message. Documents can be viewed (and edited) directly in the browser window thanks to Office Web Apps. And video (like YouTube) plays right in the email, as well.
4. You can create aliases and disposable addresses. Outlook is amazingly flexible when it comes to your email address. For example, it's easy to let Outlook send and receive email using your primary POP email address. But even more interesting is that you can establish up to five aliases, so you can send mail from a variety of firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. It's connected to social media -- in a good way. Outlook knows who you're talking to. Instead of displaying invasive and creepy ads based on keywords in email (like Gmail does), the program shows Facebook and Twitter posts from the recipient in an unobtrusive sidebar instead.
To get started with Outlook.com, you can just log into your existing Hotmail account, or, if you don't have one of those, visit Outlook.com and create a new account.