New features are coming to Outlook.com

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New features are coming to Outlook.com

Outlook.com, thanks to its predecessor Hotmail.com, is one of the world's major webmail services along with Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. And now it's getting a revamp.

Since the transition away from Hotmail in 2012 there have been improvements including a redesigned calendar, an upgraded Android app, two-step verification, the addition of outlook.com.au and similar country-specific domains, Skype integration, OAUTH support to help integration with other cloud services, IMAP support to make it easier to use non-Microsoft desktop and mobile mail apps, more sophisticated rule capabilities, aliases, and support for third-party apps with early examples coming soon from companies such as Uber and PayPal.

While the Outlook.com team has clearly been busy, the now-typical cloud model of gradually dribbling out features might be efficient from a developer's perspective and avoids users having to become familiar with loads of new features all at once, it does lack the impact of a 'big bang' upgrade.

That might explain why Microsoft has decided to announce a significant upgrade to Outlook.com with an extensive list of changes.

The new Outlook.com can automatically move messages you're likely to ignore into a Clutter folder, learning your preferences by watching which messages you move in or out of Clutter. Clutter can be disabled if you don't like it.

Search now includes suggestions based on people and content, and searches can be refined by date, folder and other criteria. Search terms are highlighted in the results.

The Pin feature that keeps selected emails at the top of the list is now folder-specific, while Flags work with the improved search capability and in conjunction with tasks. 

Outlook.com provides pop-out read and compose windows, generates previews when web links are pasted into messages, allows images to be pasted directly into messages, displays attachments side-by-side with the message (and even allows editing of Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents), and provides 13 new inbox themes "while maintaining the same look and feel you love."

When reading a message that includes an address, the new Bing Maps add-in can display the corresponding map without taking you away from the email.

Other changes include improvements to the Outlook.com calendar and (for those who prefer not to use Outlook's mobile apps) better support for mobile browsers, including swipe gestures.

Conversations can move back and forth between email and Skype chat, and a call button allows Skype voice or video calls to be initiated from Outlook.com.

Sharing files via OneDrive instead of as attachments has been simplified.

Some Outlook.com users have suggested that not all of the new features are brand new, but rather reflect those available in rival webmail services. Still, good ideas are worth implementing even if they aren't original to an organisation.

The changes have been made available initially to a very limited collection of guinea pigs, but in time - Microsoft is talking weeks, not months - the rest of us will be able to opt-in. At some stage, the new Outlook.com will probably become the standard. 

Microsoft has also opened Outlook UserVoice a forum for users to propose changes to Outlook.com and vote on those proposed by others. 

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