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After years of being beaten black and blue by Google in the online space, Microsoft has launched an attempted fightback in the web mail arena with the official launch today of Outlook.com. And at first glance, Microsoft appears to have made a pretty good fist of it.

 The new web mail product from Microsoft, which will replace the popular but dated Hotmail, was actually released as a "consumer preview" version in July 2012 and, according to Microsoft, its user base has grown exponentially to 60 million worldwide, including 1 million users in Australia.

Add to that the existing 300 million global Hotmail users, including 4 million in Australia, which Microsoft plans to migrate across to Outlook.com in coming months, and the new web mail product appears to have a good chance of giving the market a good shake-up.

According to Miriam Romaniuk, director of Microsoft products at Mi9, the Australian digital agency joint venture between Microsoft and Nine Entertainment Co, the much cleaner and more advanced interface of Outlook.com will succeed in winning many converts across from other more cluttered and less intuitive web mail products such as Gmail.

"The cleaner interface creates more space and enables users to have 30% more emails on a page," says Ms Romaniuk.

"There's no big search bar to clutter the page. We wanted to make easier and more intuitive to manage your email. The way we've approached it is that we make it easier to manage your email so that you do less searching."

Indeed, a first look at the new email product does reveal a very clean and attractive interface with some interesting features.

For a start, it automatically arranges document attachments and pics in separate folders so that you can more easily find them at a later date.

"It also comes with Word, Excel and Powerpoint web applications so that you can view and edit those attachments without leaving the inbox," says Ms Romaniuk.

"There's also a great new tool called SWEEP that enables you to manage newsletters and any commercial emails that you get a lot of. You can set it up so that you only keep the latest version and delete all the previous ones."

Ms Romaniuk says that one third of all the new Outlook.com users so far have come across from Gmail and it's obvious that the Google product is a key target for Microsoft's new email system.

Like Gmail, Outlook.com offers 7GB free storage and it also provides features that make it easy to migrate Gmail contacts, settings and emails across.

Hotmail users will be migrated across to the new product without any need to change their password or settings and the migration process is expected to be completed by June.

More information can be found on the Microsoft blog here.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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