Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY
Six months after Microsoft launched the "preview" of its new Outlook.com email service, the software giant is ready to remove the preview label altogether.
And Microsoft hopes Outlook.com will continue to lure people away from Google's Gmail and shove Microsoft's own Hotmail to the back burner. You can choose an Outlook.com e-mail address while ditching your Hotmail or Live.com email addresses. Or you can continue to use accounts with those addresses.
Microsoft is already reporting impressive growth for Outlook.com, even after all these months in preview. The company says Outlook.com has gone from 0 to 60 million active users during that 6-month span, making it the fastest growing email today. A third of Outlook.com's new active users have come over from Gmail.
To help spread the Outlook.com gospel, Microsoft plans to launch a massive TV and digital advertising campaign.
Microsoft has already been running ads attacking Google over Gmail privacy. The company says Outlook.com won't use your personal conversations to serve ads.
I was generally impressed with the clean look of the Outlook.com inbox when I first looked at the preview. Social integration is a big part of the revamped experience. Microsoft lets you populate your address book with friends from Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter and others. When you get mail from, say, a Facebook friend whose e-mail has been made public on the social network, you see their Facebook picture when they send you a new message. Status updates and tweets are also visible in a side panel.
Several features I like are holdovers from earlier iterations of Hotmail. For example, you can keep the messages you've flagged as important at the top of your inbox, even as new messages come in. You can unflag messages when they no longer require top billing. The "sweep" feature makes it easy to delete or move mail and otherwise tidy up your inbox-Microsoft says more than 12 million customers are using sweep and similar tools. Handy tools also let you save only the last daily deal from, say, Groupon so that you're not bogged down with older offers that are no longer relevant.
Microsoft also says that more than 25 million Outlook.com customers have embraced the online SkyDrive service to share over a half billion photos and Office documents.