In the span of two days, Microsoft and Google separately announced beefy social-networking-style upgrades to their respective free, Web-based email platforms, adding integration with video-calling services, collaboration tools, and social networks. In terms of the scope of the new capabilities, Microsoft wins this round with a refreshingly Web-savvy remake of Hotmail.com dubbed Outlook.com.
Specifically, the newly unveiled Outlook.com service aims to reduce email clutter with a fresh GUI while giving users a one-stop shop for not only sending and receiving email but also engaging with peers via outside services including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Add to that integration with Microsoft's Office Web Apps, SkyDrive, and Skype in the near future, and you have a robust, free email client that also gives business users a taste of what's coming in Outlook 2013.
Google, meanwhile, has brought Google+'s popular Hangout video-chat tool to Gmail, along with new features enabling users to share screens, collaborate on documents, and view YouTube videos together. These deeper ties among Gmail, Google+, and Google Apps mark a big step in the company's overall ambition of providing a more integrated, personalized Google experience.
With Outlook.com, Microsoft says it seeks to address the problems plaguing today's email systems, including reducing the excessive clutter of personal messages, business messages, social updates, newsletters, and spam. That revamp starts with a new GUI reminiscent of Gmail's clean interface, with abundant white space, handy dropdowns, and minimal text.
Microsoft has also injected deep integration with third-party social networks and mail services, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google. Not only can you easily import contacts, you can view your contacts' Facebook posts, photos, and tweets from Outlook.com, letting you stay abreast of communications with peers without having to jump from site to site. Users can even post to Facebook or LinkedIn directly from Outlook.com.
Additionally, "Outlook.com is capable of automatically sorting messages from contacts, newsletters, shipping updates, and social updates," wrote Chris Jones on the Outlook blog.