Ready or Not, Hotmail Switches to Outlook

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I put together a quarterly newsletter for my neighborhood association. The association president is a retired Ph.D. professor from the local university. She's not a stupid woman. But she keeps complaining to me that she's having a problem sending me information for the newsletter because the university switched its email to Outlook and she is struggling to get used to how the new email works.

outlook email form
Virginia's mail in Outlook

Many people are suddenly being confronted with Microsoft's Outlook email program – including everyone who's used Hotmail for the past few years. The Outlook blog announced that Microsoft is switching all Hotmail users over to Outlook.

I use the local university email system, too. I thought it was pretty clunky and really old style. But I hadn't signed in since the switch to Outlook. (Okay, I'm a bad girl and tell all my students to use my regular email because I didn't like the university's clunky old email system.) So I decided to sign in and see how it looked with Outlook. I think I'm seeing the same thing Hotmail users who are being switched see.

I signed in to a big red and yellow alert that told me to go to the new Outlook location, which I did. There I found my mail surrounded by the Outlook tools that you see in the image of my email above. You can't see it in the image above, but the highlighted email was open to the right. On the left I see my inbox, my sent items, a folder for drafts, a folder for deleted items.

Looking again at the image above, you see across the top there are menu items for New mail (or events), for deleting, for moving mail to one of the folders, for setting up filters and for adjusting the view.

It's much cleaner and easier than the old system to my mind, but I've used Outlook before. I've used Microsoft Entourage, I've used Mac Mail, I've used AOL mail, Yahoo mail and Gmail. I know a lot about email. My befuddled neighbor, and I suspect many people who signed up for Hotmail years ago and have used nothing else since then, may not be so well versed in what they are seeing.

Let's Take an Outlook Tour

Start with the Inbox. You see your unread mail, which you can read, reply to, or delete. On the left there are folders where you can store your mail if you want to save it. By right clicking on the Inbox, I see a new menu that will allow me to create a new folder where I can further organize my saved mail.

the menu to create a new folder

Further down on the left, I see categories called Mail, Calendar, Contacts and Tasks.

outlook tools

Clicking these categories shows whole new screens instead of email. There's a calendar, where you can see or add events. All your Contacts can be seen in one glance so that you can find the one you want to send mail to. And there's a ToDo list in Tasks to keep life organized. To get back to the Inbox, just click the Mail category again.

To send mail, click the New link. (This link also lets you create a new meeting request.)

A blank email form opens.

outlook email form

Enter the address of the recipient in the To field, add a subject line, and type away. There are also tools that let you save a draft (the diskette image - who even remembers what a diskette is?), add an attachment (the paperclip image) add an image (the image icon), see your address book (the book icon), check names (the check icon), set priority for the mail (the exclamation mark icon and the down arrow for high or low priority), insert a signature (the icon with a pencil) and choose between options for either HTML email or plain text email.

If you choose HTML email, you also see a series of tools for choosing fonts, making lists, using bold or italic, choosing colors and other HTML options. If you choose to use plain text for your email, those items will disappear. When you're all finished, the Send link at the upper left will whisk your mail away.

Why use Outlook?

Outlook email is much more up to the current standard of how an email program ought to look and work. It's very similar to other current mail tools like Mac Mail. It's far less awkward and clunky than the old Hotmail interface was, a fact that most people will come to appreciate as they get used to Outlook.

You may know that when you buy Microsoft Office for Windows, the Outlook email program comes with it and is installed on your computer. This is the first time Outlook has been available in the cloud so it can be accessed via your browser just like Hotmail or Gmail or Yahoo mail. You're getting Microsoft's best email tool free in the cloud.

Are you using it? Have you learned to love Outlook and appreciate the improvements over older tools like Hotmail?

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
virginia.debolt@blogher.com
Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

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