September 27, 2012, 11:08 AM — Theres an elephant in the room, and its wearing a Microsoft T-shirt.
Of course, when it comes to business-friendly webmail services, Gmail has been the go-to tool for as long as anyone can remember. Outlook? That was purely a desktop mail client. Hotmail? Most business users wouldnt touch that with a 10-foot spam filter.
But, now, here comes Outlook.com, Microsofts new webmail service. And you know what? Its pretty good. So good, in fact, that it deserves a chance to challenge Gmail head-on. Call it the elephant in the room versus the 800-pound gorilla.
Gmail already has legions of fans and a solid reputation as a versatile, reliable mail service. Outlook.com needs to prove that its not just Hotmail with a fresh coat of paint, that it can give business users the tools they need to work quickly, efficiently, and securely. And how does it rate at handling both work and personal email? Can it keep them separate but equal? For that matter, can Gmail?
Before I put these two in the ring, however, keep in mind that Outlook.com isnt intended to replace Outlook for Windows. Although you can use the former to manage multiple mail accounts (both business and personal), as you can Gmail, it cant import Outlook PST filesonly Outlook contacts exported to a CSV file. If youre thinking that Outlook.com might just be the tool you need to free yourself from the shackles of its desktop counterpart, think again. (See the comparison chart at the end of this article for details.)
Proof positive that you cant judge a book by its cover, Gmail is almost certainly the worlds ugliest webmail service. Anyone new to it would likely be put off by its cluttered and unintuitive layout, its confusing sidebar, and its text-heavy design. Learning your way around Gmail isn't hardand there are rewards for doing sobut it isn't pleasant, either.
Outlook.com, meanwhile, looks warmer and more welcoming, using larger fonts to delineate sidebar sections and message headers. You can quickly switch among a dozen color schemes, all of which accentuate the interface without overwhelming it. Gmail, on the other hand, has lots of themes, but most of them merely add extra distraction to an already cluttered interface.
Even the online Outlooks ads look nicer, with thumbnail photos that pop up when you mouse over deals that catch your interest. Gmail continues to mix in largely text-based ads, without so much as a shaded background to help separate them from actual inbox matter.
And from a productivity perspective, Outlook.com wins the day with single-click actions for tasks such as deleting messages and marking them as unreadtasks that require two or three clicks in Gmail.