Barney's Rubble

Outlook's New Split Personality

Microsoft brings its out-of-date Hotmail service into the present with new social networking features, Windows Phone 7 connectivity and richer features. It's also received a new name: Outlook.com.

When I heard that Hotmail was being replaced by Outlook.com, I thought the Web mail system was being swapped with something that looked and acted a like an HTML version of the PC client. And who doesn't know how to use that? There, the name makes sense.

Instead, to confuse us all, there are now two entirely different Outlooks: the full PC client and a weird Web-based replacement for Hotmail.

Before trying it I read a glowing review, gushing that this new Outlook could be a big step up, doing a nice job of flagging messages with photos and attachments and putting these into "quick view" mode. This is handy for a couple reasons. These often carry viruses, are spam or shams, so they can be deleted quickly. In other cases, they're just what we've been looking for, and want to see right away.

Outlook.com also integrates with social networking, combining Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail and Yahoo! contacts into one monster contact file.

It should also integrate with your Windows Phone and existing Outlook contact lists.

It all sounds good on paper. On my screen it's a kludge.

This puppy is still in beta, but Microsoft pretty much automatically upgrades you. I'm sorry I did.

There are glitches galore. I couldn't forward with photos attached. You need a psychic or a divining rod to set up Active Preview, and then it only half works. When you forward or reply to messages the original message is buried under the forwards and replies and is harder to unbury than Blackbeard's treasure.

Hmm. What else? The time stamps are almost always wrong. When you highlight messages you have to delete from the top so you can't see all that you're deleting. There's an accident waiting to happen.

The strange thing is all the reviews I read were positive. But those guys get briefings, the big review guide, and go in knowing all the ins and outs. They're predisposed to like it. Real folks like me ... Yikes.

Is it right to force-feed millions beta software? What's your Outlook.com experience? Shoot me a message at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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