Microsoft’s decision to shift its focus to Outlook is probably a good one. I have to confess, however, that for the last few years I have struggled to keep up with Microsoft’s rebranding of its failing and flailing online services - Windows Live / Messenger / Spaces / Hotmail; I don’t remember them all: rebranding tends to happen long after the services have ceased to be relevant to me.
So it was news to me that Hotmail still ‘thrives’ with 350m users. Why does a service with 350m users have so little momentum, innovation and love and care focused on it? It’s like the European Union of the internet world. What sort of company would squander such an incredible asset?
Or maybe they are misleading us with statistics? It wouldn’t be the first time. Who are their users? How many of the 350m users are current? How many are simply Instant Messenger users? How many of them reside in Asia? How many of them translate into meaningful users that might be able to benefit from Outlook’s new simple interface, integration with social networks and the impending integration within Windows 8?
Answers to these questions matter, because they largely determine whether this latest move is simply an act of someone amputating a dying limb, or an act of implanting a healthy but defunct organ from one body into another. Outlook’s success relies more on how motivated Microsoft is to deliver an extraordinary consumer experience, over trying to concoct an advertising revenue model out of a defunct and poorly executed platform.
So, why should this rebranding be different to the forerunners that have been more revenue than consumer experience driven?
I opened my first Hotmail account in 1996, but became a user of Gmail in 2004 to access the better storage capacity and features. I used IM for a while until Facebook came along; I never used Spaces as it was poorly conceived and I gravitated to Blogger, Posterous, then Twitter. My point is that adoption is always about usability and Microsoft has a poor track record of spotting paradigm shifts and driving adaptation within its product silos.
After 10 years in the doldrums, it does seem as if Microsoft’s stars are beginning to realign. Here are three key facets:
- As a desktop client, Outlook has always been the strongest mail, contacts and calendar utility - over Google, over Apple, over Yahoo. Hands down, it better understood what users want. And the web-based system retains many of these characteristics.
- Microsoft’s investment in Facebook and the integration of FB relations into Outlook is a real asset - especially over Google’s walled garden approach to building its own dreary G+ network.
- Finally, we have the forthcoming October release of Windows 8 – in what we expect will be a more seamless cross platform experience. A fully integrated communication environment with the addition of Skype and Twitter could provide a much-needed challenger to Google.
So, it does seem as if Windows has another bite of the apple, and if we take it for granted that Yahoo is irrelevant for the moment, by ‘apple’ I mean Google.