Microsoft tries to lure Gmail users with automated Outlook.com migration tool

The announcement comes after Outlook.com suffered several outages and interruptions this year

Microsoft has opened another front in its webmail war against Google with the release of a new tool designed to automate the migration process for Gmail users who want to switch to Outlook.com.

The functionality, built into Outlook.com, guides users through a step-by-step process that Microsoft describes as very easy and that transfers messages and contacts from Gmail to the Microsoft webmail service. The tool doesn't migrate calendar data.

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"The structure of your inbox, including read/unread status of your emails, will be preserved. The new tool will even set up your Gmail address as a 'send-only' account so you can continue to send email from your @gmail.com address, right from Outlook.com, if you still want to," wrote Microsoft official Naoto Sunagawa in a blog post Wednesday.

Microsoft launched Outlook.com in mid-2012, saying the service, which eventually replaced Hotmail, was a top-to-bottom reinvention of webmail from the user interface to the back-end platform that provided significant improvements over Gmail, Yahoo Mail and other competitors.

Along with the rollout of Outlook.com, Microsoft has attacked Google via its Scroogled marketing campaign, in which Microsoft argues that Gmail disrespects its users' privacy by matching ads to the text of their messages and positions Outlook.com as an alternative that is more privacy-friendly.

By going after Gmail in the consumer webmail market, Microsoft is also looking out for its enterprise email and collaboration products, like its Office 365 cloud suite, which includes Exchange Online, according to Gartner analyst Matthew Cain. In addition to being a free webmail application for individuals, Gmail is also part of Google Apps, a workplace email and collaboration suite that competes against Office 365.

"Microsoft is well aware that consumer preferences can impact enterprise decisions for social and collaboration services, including email. The popularity of Gmail, for example, may contribute to the decision for an organization to chose Google Apps over Office 365. Microsoft, therefore, may be interested in poaching Gmail seats to buttress its enterprise efforts around Office 365," Cain said via email.

However, Outlook.com has been hit by several high-profile outages and bugs this year, and there are indications that the service is misfiring on the business side of things as well.

In October when it reported its first fiscal quarter financial results, Microsoft said its 31 percent year-on-year revenue drop in display advertising was caused "mainly" by a drop in ads in Outlook.com.

Among this year's Outlook.com service interruptions are an extended incident that made it malfunction in different ways for several consecutive days in August, and an outage in March.

In fact, in July, Microsoft marked Outlook.com's one-year anniversary with a long list of positives, but also acknowledged that the service hasn't been as stable as expected.

"We had some bumps over the last year and there were places where our performance hasn't met the high standard we set for ourselves," Dick Craddock, group program manager of Outlook.com, wrote in that blog post, published July 31.

There are about 400 million active Outlook.com accounts, according to Microsoft.

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.

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