By Alexandra Burlacu | Feb 19, 2013 11:33 AM EST
Microsoft announced on Tuesday, Feb. 19, that its Outlook.com browser-based email service moved out of the preview stage and hit global availability.
Microsoft first introduced Outlook.com last July. The browser-based service marks Microsoft's boldest move since Google launched its Gmail service back in 2004.
Outlook.com is Microsoft's answer to Google's Gmail, and the service's interface, SkyDrive integration, and promise of massive storage make the rivalry quite obvious. Still, Outlook.com does sport a more distinct identity with its People Hub, as well as its look and feel.
The official launch of Outlook.com marks the demise of its predecessor, Hotmail. Microsoft acquired Hotmail back in 1997, but the product has reached its final destination. The Hotmail name will not disappear entirely, but Outlook.com is now Microsoft's sole free consumer email offering.
The software giant says it will shift users to the new service "soon," but will not force them to change their emails to an "outlook.com" address. According to the company, all users should switch to Outlook.com by this summer.
"Today is a major milestone in our mission to provide people everywhere with the world's best email experience," Microsoft's David Law boasts in a blog post. "You'll also see us kick off a large-scale marketing effort around the word to show that Outlook.com can get you going. And because we're confident that Outlook.com is the best email service available for consumers and ready to scale to a billion people, we'll soon start to upgrade hundreds of millions of Hotmail users to the new Outlook.com experience."
"Everything from their @hotmail.com email address, password, messages, folders, contacts, rules, vacation replies, etc. will stay the same, with no disruption in service."
The software giant also reveals that more than 60 million people are already actively using Outlook.com. Microsoft kicked off its global marketing campaign for the launch, showcasing Outlook's features in two ads. Microsoft also kicked off a campaign recently to bash Gmail's invasion of privacy and propose Outlook as a better alternative.
On the other hand, branding will likely be a problem. Because it bears the name "Outlook," many users will likely assume that the service is some kind of Web client for managing any email account. Instead, Outlook.com is a free service similar to Gmail or Yahoo mail, providing users with an email account. This means that users cannot create an Outlook.com account and add their corporate email to it, for instance.
Judging by Microsoft's explanatory ads, the company seems to be aware of this potential issue. Check out Microsoft's blog post for more details, and watch the video below to get a glimpse of the new Outlook.com.