A year ago on Wednesday, Microsoft surprised the world by launching a preview of its Outlook.com webmail service. Designed as a replacement to the company's ageing Hotmail service, Outlook.com took on a new UI and features to bring it into the modern era of email. The focus was clearly Google's Gmail service, with a third of signups coming directly from Gmail and multimillion-dollar ads aimed at those particular users. After 12 months of Microsoft's new email service the company is revealing this week that it has made 600 improvements based on feedback, but one feature is still missing: IMAP.
Without IMAP, you don't get the third-party app support
IMAP is one of the two most common feature requests from users, says Dharmesh Mehta, senior director of Outlook.com, in an interview with The Verge. While Mehta acknowledges users want the flexibility of IMAP, there's "nothing to announce, but if you look at what we're saying overall: we hear you." IMAP support is essential for third-party access to email and syncing, but it's also an increasingly important feature to enable new kinds of mail applications. Without it, apps like Mailbox for iPhone, Mail Pilot, and Mailbird are limited to Gmail or POP3 access that doesn't provide push and sync capabilities. Previously, Mehta has promised that Microsoft is listening to feedback and "thinking about where and in what ways we need to go expand."
The feedback over the past 12 months has something Microsoft has pored over. Google Talk integration, Skype integration, two-step verification, archive support, and many more have been top feature requests implemented since the preview launched a year ago. The second biggest request that's outstanding is account merge support. A lot of Outlook.com users want to merge two Microsoft accounts together, but Microsoft is looking into how to do this most effectively. "It's something we're looking at, the right way to do it," explains Mehta. "It's a little bit tricky." The tricky part is working out what to do with SkyDrive files and folders on each account, and parts like profiles or Xbox Live gamer tags without offering up thousands of options during the merge. It's a challenging prospect, but it looks like the Outlook.com is investing a lot of time into solving this feature request.
600 improvements based on feedback
The 600 improvements made over the year include simple additions like altering the drop down to improve calendar access and offering more options during mail tasks. Microsoft has been analysing feedback from an option embedded in Outlook.com for users to send in their thoughts and comments. While the changes and updates have been regular, Microsoft has faced some issues with its service too. An overheating datacenter resulted in 16-hour long issues for Outlook.com after a firmware upgrade went wrong. Recently performance for European users has been "unacceptably slow" according to the company. "While there’s a lot to be proud of in the last year, we are not okay with these types of issues," says Outlook.com group program manager Dick Craddock.
As for the next 12 months? Microsoft isn't promising anything just yet, but expect to see some updates and changes around the Windows 8.1 release time to improve the support for Outlook.com features and perhaps even some new additions.