In the last two decades, Microsoft has had too many commercial battles trying to stave off rivals like Apple, Linux, Netscape, Oracle and others.
However, Microsoft’s worst enemy has at certain times been itself. It has previously launched some unsatisfactory products, in my opinion.
First there was its flagship product – Windows – which went through so many make-overs that it was in the end bloated. Then there were products like the digital media store, Zune, which was quickly vanquished by the iPod in what seemed to be a one-sided battle.
Internet Explorer then fell victim to Mozilla’s Firefox at some point. The story does not end there. Outlook came along in two different flavours.
There was the desktop version, which anyone with a job in a big organisation was familiar with, and a web version.
I tried using both and I thought they were bloated slow pieces of software. For best performance on the desktop version, you needed a computer with very high specifications. Otherwise, Outlook would just chug along.
People continued to use the software because there wasn’t much of a choice and for those who used personal e-mail, there was Hotmail. Gmail came along and won that battle hands down.
However, the story is about to change.
Microsoft has done one thing it should have done a long time ago. It has introduced a whole new Outlook to take the place of Hotmail.
Outlook as it is now, is a whole new pleasant experience. It has put Gmail on the defensive.
From the word go, the new Outlook looks good. The blue hue was the first thing that caught my eye. It’s just right. The use of colours is sparse, which is nice if you are into a more minimalist look.
And there aren’t sticky little Hotmail features and branding hanging around. This is a whole new product.
The latest Outlook is not just the new pretty girl around town. It is actually very intuitive and user friendly. It was at this point that I had to make sure that this was from Microsoft.
It is easy to use. It has very simple features that are powerful and have very little “tech talk” that would confuse any user.
Compared to Gmail, there is less clutter. This is new, since Microsoft had a bad habit of putting a logo or a useless feature wherever they had free space on the screen. Now it seems that Gmail is the one left with the clutter.
Then there is speed, and Outlook loads very fast. Comparatively, it does so three times faster than Gmail on my computer. Why? There is less clutter and it is much more optimised than Gmail is.
It supports Activesync. I tied it to my BlackBerry in a minute. This was a huge surprise.
In terms of features, there are folders on the left side of the page. They contain your e-mail in its different states. There are Quick Views that indicate which e-mails contain attachments. And the software allows you to customise this.
On the right side is the Messaging client once enabled. It is simple and fast. I must admit that it works very well.
The top right of the page contains three drop down menus. One allows you to activate the chat. The other has the settings.
You use it to change things like the interface colour, for instance. The third one allows you to change your status from “Available” to “Invisible”, and to edit your account details, among other functions.
My favourite feature is at the top. Switching from e-mail to people, to your contacts, to the calendar or even to Skydrive, seems so fresh.
But it also brings out the first noticeable failure. While the design is neat and free of Hotmail traces, the Skydrive link took me back to the old Hotmail Skydrive interface. I frowned. It seems like Microsoft still has some demons to battle in its heart.
But the bigger question that one might ask is: Why did Microsoft go through this rigorous process of rebuilding Hotmail and then name it Outlook? This is the big discussion so far.
It remains to be seen if people will switch to this product. After all, switching addresses became old once Gmail came to be.
It is worth the switch if you ask me, but still, I don’t want to e-mail my contacts and tell them I have switched, so I have yet to find a true purpose for it.
What if Microsoft went enterprise with this and allowed people to set up their corporate e-mails like Google allows with their Apps? That, to me, might just be the title clincher.