Microsoft has announced that its Outlook.com e-mail service has moved out of its preview stage and is now available globally. The change does not affect those with an existing hotmail.com email address as they can keep their beloved email address. However, they do have the option to claim an outlook.com address, if they chose to do so.

Microsoft’s Senior Director of Product Management, Dharmesh Mehta told CNET that existing Hotmail users can switch over to an @Outlook.com alias anytime and can even hold both IDs simultaneously. Users who don't make the switch on their own will be upgraded in different phases automatically starting this week. Mehta claims the process should finish by the summer, though an exact date for the final phase wasn’t revealed by him.

Inbox

The Outlook.com inbox

Introduced in July 2012, Outlook.com is Microsoft's answer to Google’s Gmail. It sports a clean and simple interface, has Skydrive integration and ties in well with Microsoft’s Windows 8 UI ethos. The People Hub in particular gives Outlook.com a very unique identity.

Outlook.com was designed as a replacement for the Hotmail product, which Microsoft acquired in 1997. The global availability marks the beginning of a large-scale refresh as Outlook.com is now the company’s only free-of-charge e-mail service.

Microsoft claims that since Outlook.com’s debut, 60 million users have latched on to the service. The company is about to remove the “Consumer Preview” label from the Outlook.com service and is preparing a large-scale marketing effort to promote it to more users.

Last year, it was revealed that nearly a million of those users come from India. “India is an interesting market for us because it’s one of the few markets where Hotmail was number one and that really switched over to Gmail. About three-four years ago, Google search, Gmail and Orkut were very strong, not to mention Android growing like mad. It was Google’s best market in many ways,” Microsoft General Manager (Windows) Brian Hall was quoted as saying last year. “Now we see an opportunity to win people back,” he had added.

One of the USPs according to Microsoft is the lack of advertisements which are seen in Gmail’s inbox. Microsoft has in the past launched campaigns targeting Google’s use of keywords from your conversations to show related ads on the inbox page. Users can also choose from among several themes just like in Gmail, and there are customisable options such as one-click archiving and conversation threads. There are several consistent touches between Windows 8, the new Microsoft Office and Outlook.com, and the company has ensured easy portability for existing users. If you already have a Hotmail or Windows Live account, you can log into Outlook.com with the same email address, keeping your inbox, folders and contacts intact.

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