If you have been using Hotmail/Outlook.com for email, you would have noticed that the email, contacts and SkyDrive interfaces are all uniform, designed along the Metro principles of letting the content stand out and moving all unnecessary chrome and controls out of the way. One service which was still bearing the old Hotmail/Live look was the Calendar.
The Calendar was left in the old format for some strange reason even after Outlook.com left preview and became “production” recently. One of the early comments made by Microsoft about Calendar was that they observed that most people use the Calendar on mobile devices or via desktop applications and not the website, and hence they prioritized the Calendar update lower.
However, for those who got used to using the Outlook.com web interface (partly because it is so beautiful and functional), started feeling the eyesore that was Calendar. Until April 2.
Over on Office Blogs, David Dennis announced the new Outlook.com Calendar was finally available at http://calendar.live.com. Some of the salient features of the new Calendar are:
The fresh/modern/Metro design. Finally in line with the email, contacts and storage services.
Easier navigation and usage. The web app works much like a desktop application with drag across time periods to create an event, incorporating tasks within the same page as calendar, clicking to add/edit events, etc.
If you connect your Microsoft account to Skype, LinkedIn and Facebook, you will automatically see birthdays (and other events) from those services in your calendar.
Granular (but easy to use) privacy controls for sharing calendars and parts of calendars.
Shared calendars with change notifications, enabling scenarios where parents share calendars and get notified when one or the other changes/adds events.
Overall, this is a much-needed and highly delayed change which finally makes the “Windows Services” consisting of Outlook.com email, Outlook.com Calendar, People and SkyDrive appear like a suite of services made by the same company.
There are still some features available in other services like Google Calendar that are missing from Outlook.com Calendar, but here’s hoping that with this “big” update out of the way, the Calendar team will get more resources to focus on adding functionality to the Calendar, and enhancing how it interacts with the rest of the products in the Microsoft portfolio like Bing.
Do you use Hotmail Calendar? Have you been upgraded to the new version? What are your thoughts?
In a blog post (and in interviews), Microsoft announced on February 18th that their new webmail service Outlook.com is coming out of preview. Microsoft claims Outlook.com has 60 million users, which makes it the fastest growing service.
In an interview with The Verge, Dharmesh Mehta, Senior Director of Outlook.com said that about a third of Outlook.com users came from GMail. While this number does not include true switchers, it does show that the service did pique the interest of many GMail users. The real success of the service will be determined by how it is able to retain those users who came from GMail, as well as of course attracting users from other services.
Another point made by Mehta was that all the time while Outlook.com was in preview, they were focused on scaling and tuning the performance so that they can handle the loads which would inevitably come when they start migrating existing Hotmail users over to the new service. This is going to start from the 19th and after sending emails and alerting the users, at some point the migration will happen automatically. Microsoft expects this process to complete by the end of summer.
Now that they are out of preview, Mehta said that they will focus on enhancing the features of the service. I look forward to some of the missing pieces in the service like:
Calendar: The beautiful interface (inspired by Metro design principles, and made for touch-friendly devices) extends from email, to contacts (People) to SkyDrive. The one service which has not seen the new coat of paint is Calendar and boy does it stick out like a sore thumb. The calendar needs to be updated quickly.
2-factor authentication: When Outlook.com launched in preview mode, the team did some interviews and even a Reddit Ask Me Anything. When asked about 2-factor authentication like GMail and many other services use, the Outlook team said they don’t have it because most normal users don’t use 2-factor authentication because it makes sign in too complex. Instead, they claimed, they have a one-time password that gets sent via SMS, to use when accessing the service at an unknown PC. I don’t think that is a great substitute for 2-factor authentication. If Microsoft feels it is too complex, they should have an equivalent solution so that hackers cannot easily hack into email accounts.
Logged in activity: Continuing with the security trend, GMail also offers a nice snippet of IP addresses which are logged in to the GMail account at any given time, with the feature to remotely log any of those connections out. There is no such feature in Outlook.com. Another very nice feature available in GMail is a notification upon login that there was activity from places like China on the GMail account, potentially signalling an impending hacking attack. These days, it is better to have such measures in place than regret a hacking later, so it would be very nice if Outlook.com can adopt some of these security features in the service.
Spam filtering: While Outlook.com’s spam filter is great, I am not a big fan of blocking senders to mark an email as spam. This is especially true when there is a limit on how many senders can be in the blocked sender list. Instead, a message should be marked as spam and the anti-spam engine can then make an intelligent guess about the sender *and* the content of the message for future use. Similarly, moving a message to the Junk folder should trigger the same action as marking a message as Junk does, and that is not happening today.
Mobile apps – “Send email as”: What I love about Outlook.com among many other things, is the ability to collect emails from multiple accounts and use it as the only email service. On the web, I am able to decide which of the email addresses I want to use to send messages from, but that is not true with mobile apps. Even on Windows Phone, the email app is unable to send a message from a sender which is different from my Outlook.com/Hotmail account. Hence, when I want to send a message from my GMail address via my phone, I am unable to. I know part of this problem lies with the Windows Phone team, but since Outlook.com and Windows Phone are both from the same “team”, I as a user of both those services should expect things to just work. They don’t.
Let’s see how quickly these (and other) features get included in the service. I am looking forward to the massive marketing campaign for the service that is about the start soon. Unlike the negative Scroogled campaign, this one seems to target all the things that are great about Outlook.com, which is always a nice way to get your message out. See some of the upcoming ads below.