Compared to Hotmail, Outlook will be much less cluttered and include social networking integration
To coincide with the arrival of Windows 8, Hotmail’s millions of UK users will soon be using a service renamed Outlook.
If you recoil at the thought of changing your e-mail address and the task of informing all your contacts, don’t worry - upgrading is simple. You can keep your old address - that includes those ending in @hotmail, @live.com and @msn.com.
Hotmail is being phased out by the end of the year. If you’re curious, see www.outlook.com for a preview, and sign up for a new @outlook.com account if you like. If you are logged into your Hotmail account you will automatically convert to Outlook, so if you want to set up a new account be sure to log out of your Hotmail account first. If you convert to Outlook and want to switch back to Hotmail go to the settings menu, which appears as a cog symbol, and select the option 'switch back to Hotmail' from the drop down menu.
What does the upgrade to Hotmail mean, and how does it compare with its rivals?
Outlook’s fresh new interface looks less cluttered than that of both Hotmail and its main competitor, Gmail - and brings an enlarged area for displaying incoming messages.
Outlook is big on what is called social connectivity. In other words, messages and updates from sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are delivered right into your Inbox – offering an advantage over Gmail, if this kind of “people hub” appeals to you.
If you are thinking that the flow of all these messages will clog up that Inbox, a focus of Outlook is the filtering of incoming messages into categories of your choosing – such as personal e-mail, friends’ Facebook status updates and Tweets, and commercial e-mails. Gmail for its part offers a filtering and labelling system of its own.
Gmail moreover targets advertising by looking though the e-mails and attachments users receive, whereas Microsoft stresses Outlook’s avoidance of this form of advert - which some regard as snooping.
Close integration of web versions of its Office applications such as Word and Excel is another feature of Outlook. Gmail already offers its widely used Google Docs service - and if you are a heavy user of these apps, you will probably prefer to stick with Gmail.
Users who send photos or other large files that exceed the maximum attachment size, you might equally appreciate Outlook’s Skydrive feature - allowing you to mail big files directly. The facility compares closely with Gmail’s Google Drive service.
If you like to send and receive e-mails on your mobile phone, you will meanwhile find Outlook much more usable than Hotmail.
Hotmail/Outlook and Gmail are of course not the only available free webmail services. Yahoo! Mail is a popular rival and a clutch of lesser known services such as mail.com, gmxmail and hushmail offer further alternatives.
If you are already a Hotmail user, you will probably want to stick with what will be a significantly improved service, and upgrading Outlook promises to be far less hassle than switching providers.