Outlook.com—fit for business email? | Apertura Designs

Outlook.com—fit for business email?

In the last few days Microsoft has officially moved their new Outlook.com webmail service out of testing and into a fully supported product. The Microsoft and Outlook brands have a great deal of cachet amongst large corporate users, so we'd expect a certain level of interest from businesses looking to use Outlook.com as an alternative to ISP or web company-hosted email. Customers may also be looking to switch from competing webmail providers such as Google's Gmail.

So how does Outlook.com measure up as a business email platform? At first glance there would appear to be many positives. The web user interface is clean and fairly well designed. There is a substantial amount of per-account email storage, integration with popular social networks, and support for custom domains in email addresses.

There is, however, one critical failing that makes it difficult to recommend Outlook.com as a business email solution, and that is its inability to properly work with modern desktop and mobile email software. Outlook.com's support of modern technology standards for email software interoperability is practically non-existent. This severely limits the choice of software customers can use with their Outlook.com accounts—and the remaining software that can be used is almost guaranteed to create major headaches down the track.

A competing webmail service such as Google Apps for Business Gmail also works with a range of alternative email software apps, because Gmail supports the required modern email technology standards. Customers can use Thunderbird, Apple Mail, and many other apps to connect to Gmail without fear of their account contents losing synchronisation across the devices they check email from. Customers can also be sure that email messages won't be stored on the internal storage of their desktop and mobile devices without being automatically backed up. These are two scenarios which Outlook.com in its present state does not address.

Customers looking to use Outlook.com should also note that it is not the same product in terms of features and functionality as the full Outlook application (included for example in the Microsoft Office Professional bundle). The current version of Outlook for desktop computers does support the modern technology standards missing in Outlook.com—and Microsoft makes a point of highlighting how important this support is for business use. (The full Outlook app, however, ships at a high cost and contains many other restrictions, which we will be covering in future blog posts.)

In summary, until Outlook.com implements modern technology standards to support the safe operation of alternative email software, we cannot recommend it as a business email solution. Using your favourite email app with Outlook.com comes with serious drawbacks that increase the risk of data loss and negatively impact upon message synchronisation amongst various connecting devices.

Updated 14th September 2013: New information on this topic has been blogged here.

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