Outlook.com officially launches, bashing Gmail along the way

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The rivalry between Microsoft and Google isn't a secret, but I can't recall when it's ever been so public. Even people outside the tech industry, who only think of Google as a search engine and Microsoft as Office, will be able to decipher the messaging in the latter's Scroogled campaign, which attacks Gmail's targeted ads based on the contents of personal emails:

And just in case you missed it, when you sign up for a Microsoft account to access Outlook.com, which was officially released to the public today after six months in preview, you'll be reminded again.

The "welcome to your inbox" message again pushes the privacy benefits of Outlook, stating "You're in control of your data, and your personal conversations aren't used for ads." It also prompts you to forward your other email accounts to your new Outlook account, and specifically mentions Gmail: "Have another account like Gmail? Bring your email into Outlook so it's easier to keep up with all of your messages."

The free email service is Microsoft's Hotmail replacement, although people won't have to let go of their Hotmail addresses yet. Microsoft says it's the "world's fastest growing email service," gaining 60 million users during the preview period. (For the record, Google claims there are 425 million Gmail users.) People who are still debating whether or not they want to make the switch can view a chart that compares Outlook.com to Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. In addition to privacy, other differentiators Microsoft is pushing include easier filtering and integration with social media channels.

"While it is not obviously full-blown Outlook, the are features similar to Outlook rules that will move or mark messages," says Heather Ackmann, TrainSignal instructor and Microsoft MVP. "The structure is fantastic. I really like it and think that it is a far superior free mail service than anything else, including Gmail."

Ackmann is obviously a Microsoft fan, so as a Gmail user, I decided to give Outlook.com a quick look myself. I'll agree that the look is nice and clean. People familiar with the Office version of Outlook will be able to navigate it quickly and adjust their layout preferences.

Despite "Add a subject" in big letters at the top of my first email draft, I totally missed where to add the subject line. Compared to most email clients, where the subject is below the "To:" field, in Outlook the subject is at the very top of the body of the email, which is to the right of the "To:" field. I'm not sure why the "To:" field needs to take up so much space, but at least the body area is nice and large. I also like how the "attach files" button is really obvious (yes, I still sometimes miss the subtle "attach a file" link on Gmail). There are also a ton of pre-packaged emoticons--everything from pizza to a panda to a martini glass to the Japanese flag--if that's your kinda thing:

I started to explore beyond just the email functionality and was disappointed when I clicked on "Calendar" and ended up on a Hotmail-branded calendar that didn't look anything like Outlook. Selecting "People" allows you to import contacts and sync with your social media accounts. When I sent an email from my Facebook-linked account, it automatically pulled in my Facebook profile photo. It's nice that the profile images don't have to be linked to the specific email client, like they are with Google accounts in Gmail.

Overall, I'm certainly not unimpressed with the new Outlook.com, but I also don't know if I'll make the effort to switch from Gmail. For me, as long as an email is secure (which is why I finally ditched Yahoo after getting hacked...again) and easy-to-use, I'm pretty happy. Scroogled or no.

What about you? Will you/have you already made the switch? What do you like about it? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Dana Gagnon

Dana Gagnon is the Director of Branded Content at Pluralsight. After working for years in Chicago media, she joined the team in 2012 to continue bringing quality news, tips and more to Pluralsight's audience. Find her @ChicagoDana