Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft (MS), is feeling his oats these days. Lately he’s been trying to sic the Feds on Google, but the fact is that Ballmer has been calling his adversaries “insane” (and worse) for years now. Ballmer may have his own sanity questioned after MS committed to spending at least $30 million to wrest control of the world’s email from AOL, Yahoo, Google, and everyone else. All MS mail portals—Live, Hotmail, MSN—will close in favor of the single Outlook.com website, and if you have an account at any of the former, you’re being transferred whether you like it or not. (If you don’t do it yourself by summer, you’ll be absorbed in MS’s heavy-handed, Borg-like manner.) And whether he likes it or not, Ballmer himself will be judged on the success or failure of this major maneuver.
Frequent visitors with ID = cash
There are many reasons to use web-based email beyond the obvious convenience: extra security, universal access, more control, better tools. It certainly is “better” for the email provider. As you regularly check your inbox, or stayed logged in, you are established as a “frequent visitor with confirmed ID”—just what the sites need for selling ads (plus it keeps the service free). If you’ll be using CRE’s iPad rental and/or Android tablets at an upcoming conference, you’ll have an Outlook.com or other app tailored to the device you’re using. Unlike “mail” apps, which download messages (or at least transfer them for reading), these apps will directly connect to the webmail server—no muss, no fuss, no wasted space locally if that’s your preference.
Users can keep and continue to use their old addresses, and all saved messages, settings, and contacts will be transferred to the new Outlook.com. You may want to take the lead here if you have important correspondence to save (of course, you have a full backup, right?). Now that email is available on all your devices, from your phone to your iMac, it is likely more central in your life than ever. This is why email has become a big battleground—even as people increasingly use texting, IM, and Twitter, as well—and why Google, Yahoo, and MS are now spending major moolah revamping their web-based email services.
Outlook.com now “ready”
Outlook.com has been operating in a “preview” mode since last July, but is “ready to accept all comers,” and the feisty Ballmer probably loves the boxing lingo in all the PR emanating from Redmond. MS claims it is doing “the biggest marketing blitz in the history of email,” with Outlook.com ads running on primetime TV as well as the Internet, radio, buses, and billboards. MS touts such new Outlook features as the ability to attach files of “massive” size, even a thousand photos, to a single email. Also, as you access Outlook.com from your office MacBook, home PC, and mobile whatever-it-is, your address book stays updated and automatically adds new contact info from connections’ Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter posts. And compared to the Hotmail service, there are only about a third as many ads.
Not a single one of Outlook.com’s new features are particularly revolutionary. They’ve all been done before, and Google already has opt-in services and a new version of Gmail that allow larger (and/or more numerous) file attachments. And although Gmail doesn’t do its data-mining in LinkedIn and the others yet, it does fetch new contact data that your contacts post on Google Plus. MS wants to join Google in offering you all this “total connectivity” from anywhere—your PC desktop computer rental at work, your favorite tablet at home, and your trusty smart phone in the car. The question gets harder to answer all the time. You know the one: When am I supposed to rest when my computer, tablet, and phone are always on and my webmail is always in my face?
For Steve Ballmer, on the other hand, the question is rather more pointed: Will Outlook.com be in enough faces to win the email war?
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