Hotmail’s Outlook is Outlook.com

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It’s a bitter sweet moment for many of us today. Millennials like myself were one of the first to have enjoyed the addictive services of Microsoft’s MSN Messenger. In my early adolescent years the instant messaging service was the source of many disputes at home, the starting point to many crushes at school, and the home to some of my closest friendships, and fondest memories.

A couple months ago, Microsoft announced the transition from MSN Messenger to one of their latest purchases, Skype. Additionally, the tech giant announced the retirement of Hotmail, their once popular e-mail client, and presented its replacement, Outlook.com, a web-based e-mail client inspired by Microsoft Office’s Outlook programme.

While the announcement was made in July, all these transitions are taking effect this week. So what does it mean for Microsoft?

I’m going to be honest, I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that if Microsoft was hoping to wow consumers with their new e-mail client it looks doubtful. To try and eat back some of the marketshare they once owned they’ve created TV ads (see here and here). But in a lame attempt to exude a “cool brand image” by using Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hit song, “Thrift Shop” the tech giant has shown yet again their lack of innovation.

Looking at their ads several times and navigating through their website, I found it hard to understand what made their e-mail client unique. They even published a page showing you how they’re better than Yahoo! and Google but most of the changes weren’t that important, in fact looking at that page the only time Outlook.com holds characteristics neither other competitor holds is 5 out of 23 times. Weak.

What disappoints me is that they didn’t even try to innovate the way we communicate between one another, they just improved it — if even that — by what Google’s Larry Page would call, 10% instead of x10.

See the problem is Outlook.com won’t work for the same reason Google+ didn’t work. People are happy with their current e-mail clients just like they’re happy for now with Facebook. You can’t create a service, make it a little better and hope a flock of people will transfer everything to your service. You need to do something different, something huge. See, at least if you fail at trying to reach for the stars people will remember you as having at least tried, like Google did a couple years ago with Google Wave. But if you fail while barely trying (as I foresee Microsoft to do with Outlook.com) you’ll be remembered just as that, too lazy to reach for the stars.

Thing is, if I hadn’t recently read Larry Page’s interview with Wired’s Steven Levy, I probably would have been impressed by Outlook.com, as I was with Windows Phone 8.

In that interview, what resonated the most with me was when Page spoke about reaching for the stars in an industry that’s now become some mundanely satisfied by small improvements, instead of aspiring for leap-sized innovations.

So Steve (Ballmer), read that interview, and if you want your company to live and prevail as more than just the cash cow it’s become today take some notes and I’m sure even Larry won’t mind. At the end of the day, you know you’re in trouble when even the co-founder and chairman of your company says you need to innovate more.


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