​Microsoft's Outlook.com gets a dark mode

Outlook online users now have an option that's easier on the eyes in dimly lit places.

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After Microsoft teased dark mode for its online email service Outlook.com last week, the firm has rolled out the night-owl feature, dubbing it "essential" for today's users.

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The highly-requested dark mode should ease the strain on eyes when reading in low light. Previously, Microsoft tested a light gray background in a Halloween theme experiment, but its designers didn't like the overall look and started trialing different colors to end up with today's release.

Microsoft says that in dark mode, email messages that you receive "are recolored in a secret way", which gives it the equivalent readability of the original message and preserves the intent of the original sender.

The dark mode option should be located beneath the Settings panel, the gear icon, under the section for selecting themes. However, the option hasn't yet rolled out globally, it's not an option yet here in Spain, but probably is available to most US users.

Microsoft considered just making dark mode an additional theme, but decided themes and dark mode were "fundamentally different". Also, Microsoft envisages that many themes will have a dark mode in future, so it kept the setting separate.

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Dark mode is becoming a more popular option among major tech products keen to help users work more comfortably at night. Apple announced a dark mode for macOS Mojave, which is due out later this year. Twitter and YouTube also have dark mode options. Users on the Android P preview can also select a dark device theme. And Microsoft added a dark theme to Windows 10 as part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, and more recently added a dark theme to File Explorer.

"One of the most crucial principles we had when designing dark mode was to minimize the amount of eye strain that people felt," explained an Outlook employee. "Many email clients on the web today advertise a dark mode, but we learned from interviews with others and our own usage that having the reading pane be on-light while the rest of the interface was left on-dark often made the experience worse than if the full screen were left on-light."

If users don't want to see the message in dark mode they can revert to the original formatting by using the 'Turn on the lights' button.

Microsoft notes that if the browser is unable to support dark mode it should work in its little-used Edge browser.

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Outlook.com's new dark mode.

Image: Microsoft / CNET screenshot

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