July 31, 2012, 1:12 PM — Microsoft on Tuesday began publicly previewing a new webmail service for consumers called Outlook.com that will eventually replace Hotmail.
Microsoft also expects that Outlook.com will draw people away from competing consumer webmail services like Google's Gmail and Yahoo Mail.
With Outlook.com, Microsoft set out to "reimagine personal e-mail -- from the datacenter all the way to the user experience," wrote Microsoft official Chris Jones in a blog post.
Outlook.com features what Microsoft describes as "clean" and "intuitive" user interface that gives more prominence to messages and less to other elements, like headers and search boxes. It doesn't include display ads.
With Exchange ActiveSync, Outlook.com accounts can be synchronized across a variety of devices, and it features native integration with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and, in the near future, Microsoft's own Skype.
This means that users can access content and notifications from those social media accounts within the Outlook.com interface.
Outlook.com also sorts messages of different types into separate buckets, so that e-mail from contacts, newsletter subscriptions, e-commerce notifications and social media content is arranged into different groups.
The new webmail service also includes Office Web Apps, the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote along with the SkyDrive cloud storage service.
Once Outlook.com exits its test phase, it will replace Hotmail's user interface, although users will be able to retain their @hotmail.com, @live.com and @msn.com addresses as well as their contacts, messages, password and rules.
"While today's preview is just the start, Outlook.com is ready now to become your primary email service. We're expecting millions of people to try it out. Starting today, you can get an @Outlook.com email address, and we've also made it easy to get started with your current email address if you want to," Jones wrote.
Outlook.com is not to be confused with the Outlook email and calendaring PC application, nor with Outlook Web App, which gives Exchange users access to their accounts via a browser.
Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.