Microsoft rebooted its aging Hotmail franchise a year ago, giving it a new name, Outlook.com, as well as a spiffy new interface and all the bells and whistles you expect from a modern free email service.
As in so many other areas, Microsoft’s chief rival is a Google service: Outlook.com competes directly with Gmail, and the two services each have hundreds of millions of subscribers. Part of the goal of introducing Outlook.com was to lure back former Hotmail subscribers who had switched to Gmail since its launch almost a decade ago.
The trouble with switching email providers is that the process is technically daunting, especially for consumers whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of acronyms like POP and IMAP. You’ll find the gory details in this post: How I switched from Gmail to Outlook.com (and how you can too).
That’s the impetus behind Microsoft’s introduction today of an online service designed to make it easier to migrate from Gmail to Outlook.com. The service allows you to set up an Outlook.com account, connect it to an existing Gmail account using the secure OAuth protocol, then copy existing messages from Gmail to Outlook.com.
The automated setup process works in the background, on Microsoft's servers, and it's smart enough to migrate new messages first and maintain the read/unread status for anything in your inbox or in folders.
The final step is the only one that requires manual intervention, with the user following Microsoft’s instructions to set up auto-forwarding of new messages sent to the Gmail account.
Although the new service debuts today, its worldwide rollout will be staggered, so it might take a few days before you see it in the Outlook.com dashboard.
Today’s announcement doesn’t include any updates to the Windows Live Domains tool, which you can use to attach a custom domain to an Outlook.com account. (If you need instructions on how to make that happen, see Why I use Outlook.com for my custom email accounts (and how you can too).)
There’s also no easy switching tool available for frustrated Yahoo Mail users, who have suffered a double whammy lately, with a disastrous overhaul of the back end and user interface, as well as an ongoing outage that started yesterday and is still not resolved.
I'll have a more detailed look at how the new online switching tool works as soon as it's live, along with some tips for making better use of an Outlook.com account.