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Microsoft Outlook: New Webmail Service Takes Aim at Gmail

A screenshot of Microsoft's Outlook email service, launched on July 31, 2012. (Microsoft)(NEW YORK) -- Microsoft has spent the summer showing off some major changes. An all-new Windows 8 ... its first computing devices, the Microsoft Surface tablet ... as well as Xbox Smartglass, Office 2013, and the new Windows Phone 8.

And the engineers in Redmond aren't done yet. Today Microsoft is announcing its new take on webmail with Outlook.com. And it too is a break with the past.

No, Outlook isn't just a new version of the email program that runs on your computer (though that program is still around and still called Outlook). The new Outlook is an entirely new webmail service, complete with @outlook.com domains. It doesn't replace Microsoft's Hotmail or Windows Live email service, but it is very easy to move your @hotmail.com or @live.com email address over to the new service.

Microsoft didn't just want to redesign Hotmail, said Chris Jones, the head of Microsoft's Windows Live group. Instead it wanted to design a completely new email system.

If you've used Windows 8 or Windows Phone, the Outlook.com look and feel will be familiar. It's based on Microsoft's clean Metro design: lots of white space, clean lines, and well-organized menus. Outlook is designed around the inbox; advertising has been pushed off to the right and the lack of clutter makes it easy to focus on your new messages. Microsoft says that in its basic Inbox view (without the right or bottom message pane enabled) it shows more messages in your inbox than competing services, like Google's Gmail.

But an eye-pleasing design isn't the only thing Microsoft hopes will lure people away from other services, like Gmail and Yahoo. The company says Outlook is a more social form of email. While Gmail might only loop in with your Google Talk or Google Plus account, Outlook can bring in your Facebook and Twitter streams. Skype will also be integrated in the final version.

Microsoft is releasing a preview version of Outlook.com today. And even better it is providing unlimited storage for all -- no need to worry about attachment sizes, etc. All users will be able to sign up for a brand new @outlook email handle or bring in their other email accounts, including Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. and use Outlook as an all-in-one email service. (You can receive messages from those services in Outlook and send messages from that address.) Microsoft seems to be aware that many are tied to their email addresses and is making it easy to switch between accounts.

"Similar to how you can keep your phone number -- but change to a better service -- we want to make it easy for people to enjoy all of the benefits of Outlook.com without having to change their email address if they don't want to," Jones said.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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