Update: The Outlook Twitter account has reported that a total of 1 million people have since signed up the the new Outlook.com service.
Microsoft's latest move to counter the rising popularity of Gmail among Internet users comes in the form of a preview of its new web service, Outlook.com which will eventually replace Hotmail. Here's a quick rundown of its new features:
Cleaner, More Streamlined User Interface
Users will see a fresh, clean interface with more message visibility in their inboxes. Microsoft also makes it a point to do away with display ads or large search boxes that take up unnecessary space. Outlook.com uses Exchange ActiveSync, which powers your mail, calendar, and people experience on the smartphone, tablet and the new Outlook 2013 preview.
Integration with Social Networks
Recognizing the increasing importance of social networks as tools for people to share and communicate, Microsoft is the first to provide an email service that is connected to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, and soon Skype, to make calls from inside Outlook.com. This means that your contact list is always up-to-date with photos of your friends, status updates and tweets. Outlook.com also gives you the power to control your experience - what you share, the networks you connect to, and your personal information.
Smarter and More Powerful Inbox
Outlook.com will automatically sort out your messages from contacts, newsletters, shipping updates and social updates. The Sweep feature enables the user to move, delete, and set up rules in a few, simple clicks so that you can navigate faster around the interface.
Office Web Apps is included as a free add-on, which allows you to to view and edit Office documents from within the email service itself. Outlook.com is also integrated with Microsoft's SkyDrive, making it convenient to send files from the cloud storage service without worrying about attachment limits.
Emphasis on Privacy and User Control
Microsoft assures you that it will not scan your email content or attachments, and sell these information to third parties. Ads will not be shown in personal conversations as well. You are free to customize your inbox according to your preferences by creating your own folders, categories and rules. Outlook.com provides virtually unlimited storage with industry-leading spam protection and world class security.
How To Get Started on Outlook.com Preview
If you are currently a Hotmail user, you can upgrade to the Outlook.com preview by logging in to your Hotmail account. Click "Upgrade" under the Options menu of Hotmail. Do not worry as your email address, password, contacts, messages, and rules will stay the same. You can continue to send and receive email from @hotmail.com, @msn.com or live.com address. However, you will be using the new Outlook.com preview user interface.
For users of other email services such as Gmail, you can go to http://www.outlook.com/ and create a new @Outlook.com email address. From there, you can set up your current email service to forward incoming mails to Outlook.com. You can also import your contacts and messages.