Microsoft is Replacing Hotmail: What is the Outlook for Gmail and Yahoo?
On July 31, 2012, Microsoft announced that it was replacing its Hotmail email service with Outlook.com. Hotmail was launched in 1996, bought by Microsoft in 1997, and saw its last major change some 8 years ago before this week’s initiative from Microsoft. Hotmail is the world’s most popular web-based email service with some 360 million users (or second most popular after Google with some 425 million users, depending on which source you read). comScore reported that Hotmail had the most traffic with 324 million monthly visitors in June 2012, compared to 290 million for Yahoo and 278 million for Gmail.
Many of the media articles have been cautiously positive about Outlook.com, for example, citing the importance of less clutter and more whitespace and not using personal messages to generate advertisements from keywords like Gmail does. However, Outlook.com users will still see “Gmail-like” but generic text-based advertisements unless they opt to pay US$19.99 per year for the “Hotmail Plus” service and have screens devoid of any advertising. Various analysts agreed that Yahoo has the most catching up to do to retain their users with one analyst recommending that Yahoo should ditch the graphical advertisements that can become annoying to their users.
Dharmesh Mehta, Microsoft’s Director for Windows Live product management, admitted that Gmail users were a primary target of Outlook.com. Outlook.com’s address book offers direct contact with Facebook, Gmail, Linkedin, Twitter and other social networking services so contact information is automatically updated when users and their friends amend their profiles. Outlook.com has a quick view feature and documents, flagged, important, photos, and shipping updates are default settings. Outlook.com also continues the Hotmail feature of sweeping old emails from selected addressees into the trash.
New Outlook.com users will receive 7GB of cloud-based storage through SkyDrive which helps to get around attachment limits in email messages as files (text, photo etc.) are sent via SkyDrive. Hotmail.com or Live.com users will see their accounts migrated to Outlook.com but will have the option of obtaining a new outlook.com email address or retaining their existing hotmail.com or live.com address. In addition to almost unlimited storage in the inbox, Outlook.com works well with the similarly named Outlook desktop email application and also has free web apps for Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote whereby users can view and edit attachments within the inbox.
In the migration to Outlook.com, Hotmail or Live.com passwords have been limited to 16 characters (i.e. those users who created passwords longer than 16 characters will just type in the first 16 characters). Yahoo permits up to 32 characters and Gmail allows up to 200 characters. However, strong passwords should have a combination of letters (lower and upper case), numbers and symbols. Generally speaking, passwords tend to be stolen rather than cracked, especially if passwords are encrypted and protected with strong SHA-1 hashing and salt.
The jury is still out on how seriously Outlook.com is going to challenge its main competitors Gmail and Yahoo. One factor in favour of the competitors is the amount of effort required to switch email services and how many people will be frustrated by that experience. Obviously, some users will not be bothered by the means to forward or copy email messages to another email account. Google recently introduced its Google Plus Hangout feature to Gmail, allowing users to video chat with up to nine people (and replacing the old 1-on-1 video chat option), enabling multiple users to watch YouTube videos together, collaborate on Google documents and share the same screen view. In Fall 2011, Google Plus was integrated with the cloud-based Google Apps office suite service. Many Gmail users have become immersed in the Google universe and readily use the Archive feature (and the ability to retrieve archived messages through keyword searching) and create labels and filters to organize their email messages as well as using Google Drive to store documents in the cloud. Arguably, these users who invested much time with things Google may be less likely to change outright to an alternative. However, one reviewer who suggested that Outlook.com users create a folder called “Archive” to store older messages found that the quality of searching was comparable to Gmail’s.
Yahoo may be the more interesting competitor to watch as it has undergone changes in CEO three times within the past year in addition to coping with financial difficulties as well as slipping market share for the Yahoo search engine. However, Marissa Mayer, the latest Yahoo CEO, spent 13 years previously at Google and time will tell whether she can turn Yahoo’s fortunes around.
The email battles continue…