Microsoft announced Tuesday that its Outlook.com browser-based e-mail service has moved out of its preview stage and is now available globally.
First introduced last July, Outlook.com is Microsoft's boldest e-mail move since Google launched Gmail in 2004 and a clear answer to it. As I said in my First Take, the simple interface, Skydrive integration, and promise of mega storage will remind you of Google's product while the People Hub and vaguely Windows 8 look and feel give Outlook.com a distinct identity.
Microsoft designed Outlook.com to replace its Hotmail product, which it acquired in 1997, and the general availability marks the start of that process. The Hotmail name won't disappear entirely, but Outlook.com will become Microsoft's sole free consumer e-mail offering.
In a phone interview last week, Senior Director of Product Management Dharmesh Mehta said existing Hotmail users can switch over at anytime. You'll be able to keep using your "@Hotmail" address and you'll have the option to claim an "@Outlook.com" alias, as well.
Users who don't switch over on their own will be upgraded in waves to the new product automatically starting this week. Mehta said that the process should finish by the summer, though he declined to name an exact date.
Microsoft also announced that in the six months since Outlook.com debut, the service has attracted to 60 million users. And in an effort to attract more, Mehta said that the company is launching its largest marketing ever for an e-mail service.