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What’s in a name? A lot if it’s Outlook.

An Operating System is a computer program that manages the resources of a computer. It accepts keyboard or mouse inputs from users and displays the results of the actions and allows the user to run applications, or communicate with other computers via networked connections.

As information technology evolves, the word is fast transforming into a Social Operating System.  Computers and their networks are no longer central, people are.  It’s about our memories, and our schedules and our contacts more so than the RAM, the processors and the file-system.  Facebook and Google are driving this change in the thought process.  This is the context in which we will look at what happens when Microsoft – the original king of OS – decides to rename Hotmail to Outlook.

A New Look – It’s Outlook

Hotmail has stayed a pretty bare bone email service for decades, except for the occasional touch up to the UI.  The latest round of spam filters and redesigns did not help pull it out of the general purpose junk email gatherer status.  And now in a latest bid, it has been renamed to Outlook in what appears to be a really quick move.  You can still see vestiges of hotmail sitting around, which surely some of my friends at MS are busy cleaning up.  But we will overlook these temporary issues and focus on what we think is the bigger story.

Outlook is no trivial name.  It’s the one that sets your agenda every morning – your emails, your meetings, your to-do, your notes, and so on.  A great name for your daily dashboard, and a successful brand.  So, if you are Micorsoft and you wish to launch into the Social Operating System space, and you want to convey it really well, then you could very well call it Outllook.

(Note: Of course there is the curious issue of Outlook being more a corporate brand.  How would it translate into the mass consumer space where Hotmail plays?  We will ignore these for the present.)

So, I launched into with great expectations.  Fully expecting the new Metro UI along with a slew of features.  Looked for the social integration that the blog posts talked about.  Must say, they have a long way to go.

The Metro UI

I would like to think Metro UI is work in progress.  Why else would you see glossy tiles at first to be quickly launched into the back alley of traditional list-like interfaces?  On the Windows Phone, it gets by because it occupies all of the home display.  But at the Metro UI artifacts are hidden quite well.  You only get to see some tiles, upon clicking the drop-down arrow next to the Outlook logo – something I had no inclination to do at first.

The Email Service

It’s essentially the same email service as the hotmail, with no new features except for the somewhat new cleaner look. Very inspired by the Gmail look.  It seems more optimized for browsing emails and less focused on things such as reply.  Users of Gmail will surely miss the ease of reply.  MS probably needs to grow out of its over-dependence on floating menus and their web-sister drop-down menu.  Surely Metro could conjure up a new trick.

The Calendar

It seems that the Calendar related features have been temporarily taped to the Outlook UI from the Hotmail.  Therefore, when you launch Calendar from the cool new Metro Calendar tile, it takes you to the older looking Hotmail stuff.  Tiles gone.  To me this is a big deal.  Outlook and no Calendar?

Other Stuff

What other stuff?  Oh yes, there is the Facebook integration, letting you chat with the Facebook contacts? Guess that’s the end of MSN chat.  At least I did not see any sign of that stuff.  Look forward to more social stuff adding up.  But unfortunately over the years, my Hotmail has become the go-to address for all kinds of commercial transactions – air-tickets, bank, insurance, etc.  Very few friends write to this address.  I know I am not the only one to relegate Hotmail to such uses.  It’s a challenge for MS to turn this into a more people friendly email.  Hopefully the new name will help it get socially acceptable.

Way Forward

Clearly Microsoft has a long way to go to make this change meaningful.  Hoping this change is truly intended to be transformational, here are some moves that should help Outlook mean more to its users.

  • Live up to its name: Outlook is a brand that means certain minimum capabilities to its users.  The fondest memory I have of Outlook comes from the era of Windows Mobile.  You could take notes on your handset and they would automatically sync up with the Outlook on your laptop.  Great for taking field notes – What Evernote essentially offers today.  No other phone/app could do so at that time.  Tighter integration with the calendar and Notes with Email, makes for a great productivity tool, letting the users manage their work day.
  • Let Contacts be more Central: If you are building a Social Operating System, it had better be centered on people.  Ability to bring together the complete context centered around contacts and groups, and presenting all the options for reaching out – call, text, chat, post, email – is key.  We are yet to see a service that provides such comprehensive view of our contacts.
  • Deliver the Complete Communications Continuum: Talk, Chat, Post and Email form a continuum of communications, going from most real-time to less so.  It’s key competitors Gmail and Facebook have covered the last three – Chat, Post and Email.  In this context, Skype offers the ability to bridge the talk and chat gap.  Look to MS to fully leverage the Skype network as well as its technology to make some major strides towards building a Social Operating System.


Not a fantastic first impression.  But my expectations stay up, especially given the name they have chosen.  This name can act as a guiding light in leading the involved teams to something truly transformational.  A Social Operating System.  A service that could bring Microsoft closer to the main stream consumer.  It could start with some ground breaking work in bringing together Skype and Outlook.  I really hope my friends at MS do better than something like – “Now you can call your contacts on Skype”

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