Even as a long time user of Microsoft (MSFT) software, I must admit that I've always been a little underwhelmed by Microsoft Outlook. It's the one program I never use. Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Access—they all come in handy on a fairly regular basis. But Outlook? Too clunky for my tastes. I much preferred the Google (GOOG) solution to email: Gmail. With automatic integration into other platforms like Google talk, Google Drive, Google+, and my Android smartphone, Gmail simply offered unparalleled connectivity and convenience.
Enter Outlook.com, Microsoft's new email platform and eventual successor to Hotmail. Outlook.com is a radical renovation to Microsoft's email strategy, featuring:
the option to connect to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks; the ability to open, edit and share Office documents anywhere via Office Web Apps; and options to easily connect in other ways, such as chat or a status update from a social network.
Still to come, Microsoft says, is the ability to make Skype video calls directly from your inbox.
In keeping with the theme of the works-on-tablet-and-desktop-alike Windows 8, Outlook.com is designed to work on both touchscreen and traditional devices.
While I must admit I haven't fully explored Outlook.com, I like what I see at first glance. It's a complete reimagination of email on Microsoft's part, quashing the viewpoint that Microsoft is the dowdy and slightly big-around-the-waistline old fuddy-duddy from the Apple (AAPL) I'm-a-Mac-I'm-a-PC ads. Outlook.com is clean and functional, just the way I like it.
More important than my personal tastes is the fact that Microsoft is indeed shifting its business model to the one that will predominate over the coming years. Just as Adobe Systems (ADBE) is shifting from selling software like Photoshop in boxes to selling it through a "creative cloud," Microsoft's new Outlook.com signals a shift from traditional boxed software-as-a-product to a more modern software-as-a-service. As examined by ZDNet, it's part of Microsoft's big bet on the rapidly developing future of the software landscape:
Putting two and two together, it's clear that Microsoft is making a huge bet on a fundamental change in the software industry, one that changes the way people buy software. Instead of boxed copies that connect to cloud services, it's working towards a future where users and IT departments buy subscriptions to cloud services, and get desktop software as part of the package.
It's a future that's less software plus services and more services plus software. It really is a bet-the-company strategy, one that changes revenue models and customer and partner relationships.
While the last decade hasn't been kind to Microsoft's stock or public image, I believe Microsoft is ready to surprise both the general public and the investing community.
At the very least, the Outlook.com move signals that Microsoft is no longer "set in its ways" and resigned to doing business the exact same way it always has. With new offerings like Windows 8 and Outlook.com, Microsoft is showing the ability to innovate to provide software solutions that meet customer requirements. As an investor, that gives me relative peace of mind in regards to Microsoft's market share.
Disclosure: I am long MSFT.