Microsoft Outlook.Com: a getting-started guide

Less than 24 hours after Microsoft rolled out Outlook.com, one million people are already using the service.

Hotmail users and newbies are flocking in droves to Outlook.com, Microsofts latest Webmail overhaul that will eventually replace Hotmail. Less than 24 hours after Microsoft rolled out Outlook.com, one million people were already using the service, according to an official tweet from Microsoft. The new Outlook continues Microsofts overhaul of all its Web properties to the new touch-centric Metro feel -- the same look thats coming to the Windows 8 Start Screen and is already on Windows Phone.

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[RELATED: Analysts: At First Pass, Outlook.com Looks Underwhelming]

Launched in 1996, and bought by Microsoft in 1997, Hotmail was one of the earliest free Webmail services and became the first e-mail address for millions of people, perhaps rivaled only by AOL Mail. But what was once new and exciting in the late 1990s became stagnant and less innovative by the early 2000s. Around 2004, Googles Gmail was the hot new e-mail service, while Hotmail appeared dated. That lack of trendiness, however, did not cause Hotmail to bleed users. In fact, it was only recently that Gmail finally surpassed Hotmail, reaching 425 million active users in June, while Hotmails last reported user base hovered around 360 million.

Microsofts Outlook.com overhaul comes just in time to help Hotmail/Outlook try to regain its position as the worlds top Webmail service. Its not clear when Hotmail will be completely absorbed into the new Outlook.com, so longtime Hotmail users resistant to change can stick with the older Webmail service for now.

But if youre interested in getting started with Outlook.com today, heres what you need to know whether youre a Hotmail veteran or new to Microsoft Webmail.

Sign Up

If you already have a Hotmail address or Microsoft account, just sign in to Outlook.com using your current credentials and you will automatically switch over to the new look. New users can also sign up for an account at the Outlook.com start page.

The Inbox

The new Outlook uses the same four-column design that Hotmail does with some slight differences. On the far left you have the Folders and Quick View Pane, next to that is the message list, followed by the largest column where you can view messages. The biggest change is in the far right column, which in Hotmail was occupied by ads. When you login the first thing you will see in the far right are Bing deals and offers (ads), but you can turn that space into something more personal by clicking on the Messaging icon in the top right corner.

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