IT'S FAIR TO SAY that Microsoft rarely gets things right in the eyes of the consumer, which is why the world was surprised on Tuesday when it took the wraps off of Outlook.com, its refreshed email service.
Sure, it has taken Microsoft eight years to develop an email client that can compete with Google's online offering, but the company has also brought some innovation to online email, adding features that might just woo people to switch from their current @gmail.com address.
Upon hearing the news of the Outlook.com launch, I wasn't expecting much. For many years I put up with its previous service, Hotmail.com, with its childlike design, annoying adverts and somewhat lacking ability to hunt down spam, before switching over to Google's Gmail.
Heck, I thought, I'll sign up to Outlook.com - if only to get a good email address while it's still available. Unfortunately, I wasn't quite as clever as the guys who hastily snapped up firstname.lastname@example.org and the even better email@example.com, but I got a good one nonetheless.
My other reason for signing up was that I also use Microsoft's enterprise Outlook client on a daily basis, proving Outlook.com was a clever choice of branding from the Redmond based firm.
Once I was logged on - with an email address much better than my Gmail alternative full of numerical jargon - I immediately refreshed my inbox with Microsoft's slick new interface, a far cry from the cluttered Hotmail user interface (UI) that often was the bane of my teenage years. Clearly taking tips from the Windows 8 Metro UI and Gmail, Outlook.com's user interface screams "clean" and "refreshing", which Microsoft said was one of its main goals.
Outlook.com's approach to advertising is also refreshing, and a far cry from the animated ads found on Hotmail. Like on Gmail, the adverts are small and based purely on text. Sure, there are more of them than Gmail, but Microsoft has opted not to show users ads when you click on messages from real people, letting users get fully immersed into their emails without being distracted by irrelevant commercials.
Outlook.com's interface and new advertising approach aren't the only reasons I'm planning to say goodbye to Gmail, as Microsoft has outdone Gmail when it comes to social networking integration too.
Whereas Google has tried to tie social networking into its Gmail client with the use of its barren Google+ service, Microsoft has integrated the big boys into its service, offering users a Windows Phone-style "People" hub complete with access to Facebook and Twitter.
Privacy within Outlook.com is another massive plus point. One of my bugbears with Gmail is that it roots through your emails and uses that information to display targeted ads, a feature I've never felt all that comfortable with.
Microsoft, aware that a number of users are creeped out by Google's snooping, has promised that Outlook will not scan your emails, saying, "We don't scan your email content or attachments and sell this information to advertisers or any other company, and we don't show ads in personal conversations."
Before I took a look at Outlook.com, I couldn't imagine Microsoft would be able to banish association with Hotmail, possibly the most irritating email service of all time. But it has. Of course, it's very similar to Gmail, and Microsoft isn't afraid to admit that, saying "If you're a heavy Google Docs or a Google+ user, then Gmail is probably for you. Otherwise, if you use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Office, then Outlook is better."
It's that kind of honesty, along with the refreshing, modern feel of Outlook.com, which is why I'm shunning Gmail.com, and I'm confident that I won't be the only one doing so. µ