July 31, 2012, 5:58 PM — Outlook.com, which Microsoft is positioning as a reinvention of its Hotmail and of competing consumer webmail services, appears at first glance more evolutionary than groundbreaking, according to several industry analysts.
"This will probably appeal to Microsoft loyalists and those tied to the Outlook email client. However there aren't any features here that on their surface appear revolutionary," Greg Sterling from Sterling Market Intelligence said via email.
Launched on Tuesday in public preview mode, Outlook.com will eventually replace Hotmail, and Microsoft expects that it will also steal users from competing consumer webmail services like Google's Gmail and Yahoo Mail.
Saying that its goal with Outlook.com is to "reimagine personal e-mail -- from the datacenter all the way to the user experience," Microsoft is presenting it as a next-generation product that offers significant advances and improvements over Hotmail and competing services.
Microsoft highlighted Outlook.com's "clean" and "intuitive" user interface, which prioritizes messages over elements like headers and search boxes, and which doesn't feature display ads.
Microsoft also trumpeted Outlook.com's ability to be synchronized across a variety of devices, and its native integration with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and, in the near future, Skype.
Outlook.com also sorts messages of different types into separate buckets, so that, for example, users can prioritize reading email from contacts over newsletters they're subscribed to.
Outlook.com also includes Office Web Apps, the online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, along with the SkyDrive cloud storage service.
Still, Sterling doesn't find the features earth-shattering. "The absence of display ads might lure some people from Yahoo but I don't think there's -- so far -- enough here to gain many converts from Gmail," he said.
Gartner's Matt Cain also found Outlook.com to be less exciting than Microsoft is making it out to be. "There really is no new technology here -- the filtering tools have been around for some time as well as the social network integration," he said via email.
"What is new is the cleaned-up user interface, and the marketing spin, and the tight integration with Office Web Apps and Skydrive, and the forthcoming integration with Skype," Cain added.
With Outlook.com, Microsoft is trying to stem the loss of Hotmail users who no longer think Hotmail is cool, and better compete against Gmail, whose interface remains a source of frustration for a segment of its users, he said.