Soon after Google (GOOG) launched its Gmail in 2004, it quickly replaced other web-based email services like Microsoft's (MSFT) Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail by Yahoo! (YHOO), AOL (AOL), and a number of other smaller service providers who literally went bankrupt due to non-relevance. Gmail was and is still touted to be the cleanest and most minimalist email service in the cloud and a large number of business users have begun to use Gmail's services as well.
Apart from the easy UI and customization options, it offers great organizing and sorting tools which make Gmail more popular than Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail's slower and more traditional email services. Gmail is particularly popular because of its chat feature, which is embedded within the browser. Apart from all these features, Google has turned Gmail into a tool that manages online activity, with quick links to contacts, calendars, and other services provided by the company. Before one wonders why I am singing praises about a product that is already the standard way to send emails, I would like to point out the emergence of Microsoft's newly-launched web-based Outlook.com.
Outlook.com has used the familiar Microsoft Outlook term to replace the archaic, slow and cumbersome Hotmail. Microsoft will slowly phase out Hotmail in the coming months and existing Hotmail users will be converted to Outlook.com, though they will be able to use their older addresses. Microsoft's Outlook.com is not a 'me-too' kind of product, and is something that can effectively give Gmail a run for its money. Outlook.com not only is clean, easy to use, and fast, but also packs in many features that Gmail does not have. Microsoft offers virtually unlimited email storage data and one can attach large files to a maximum of 300 MB. Gmail allows a maximum of 25 MB to be attached with each email.
Some of the features are the ability to use aliases, the metro look of Windows 8, and a minimalist interface that is very effective and easy on the eyes. While I would not say that those of us who have been using a Gmail account should immediately abandon it and start using Outlook.com, it is definitely worth a try. Those who use services other than Gmail should begin to use Outlook.com as it offers everything that Gmail provides and a little more than that as well. If you use an Android phone and are deeply embedded into Google's ecosystem, you may not want to use Outlook.com but you will still be pleasantly surprised with its speed, effectiveness and simplicity.
However, I was pleasantly surprised when I used Outlook.com, to the point of wondering if I should buy a Windows Phone. The tiles are really easy to use, and offer an experience very different from that we all know and are familiar with, after using Apple's (AAPL) iOS and Android's app icons. Windows 8 tiles are used in Outlook.com as well and the whole experience is visually pleasing.
Yahoo! will have to do a lot of catching up, and if it does not offer an email experience that is as slick as Microsoft's, it will clearly lose out in the email race. Ever since Yahoo! hired Google's Marissa Mayer, things have neither improved nor has she been able to decide on important financial matters. She recently rejected Google's offer to purchase Yahoo!'s ad-tech business, Right Media.
Meanwhile, Apple's iCloud mail is certainly simple and easy to use, but is available for those who have an Apple device. This makes it impossible for the rest of the world to use it, effectively removing itself from the list of Gmail's and Outlook's competitors. In spite of being a user of iPhone, I do not use iCloud mail at all, and I am happy with my Gmail account for its ease and simplicity. Microsoft's Outlook.com is still in a nascent stage and has already been able to get more than 10 million users in just two weeks. Much of web is strewn with positive reviews and being a very dedicated user of Apple products and Gmail, can't help but admit that it is probably better than Gmail too. Microsoft has announced that it will soon begin to offer IMAP support and include several more features which would make Outlook.com similar to Google's Gmail, a one stop shop to use and manage digital life.
AOL Mail is another competitor, though one that many of us do not even acknowledge exists. However, it improved its interface recently and has managed to stop a few of its users from switching over to Gmail. Nevertheless, it poses no competition to either Outlook.com or the more popular Gmail. Microsoft's decision to create a singular online and offline digital experience is a very clever one.
Those who are considering switching from Gmail to a less ad-intrusive platform may find Outlook.com more pleasing, as its ads are less omnipresent. I do not see existing power users of Gmail switching over to Outlook.com but it certainly is a great or even better option than Gmail, if one is looking for an entirely new email address. This time, Microsoft nailed it in and I am sure these positive reviews will help the company to revive interest in its flagging business.
Microsoft's shares average around $31 and it has a profit margin of 23.03%. Microsoft's operating margin is 37.92%, which suggests that it is in a comfortable position financially. The company's return on assets is 15.20%, while its return on equity is 27.51%. The company had a gross profit of $56.19 billion and its net income was $16.98 billion. With a total cash of $62.04 billion and a total debt of $12.78 billion, Microsoft is very strong and a good stock to invest in. Outlook.com should not be understood from the point of a singular email service, but must be understood as a holistic solution that Microsoft plans to bring to its users, vis-à-vis Apple. It certainly is going in the right direction by modernizing its email service, and if it continues in the same path, I am sure both users and investors will be a pleased lot.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.