What is Microsoft Outlook?

The email program is offered in different ways depending on your needs

Microsoft Outlook is an application that is used mainly to send and receive emails. It can also be used to manage various types of personal data including calendar appointments and similar entries, tasks, contacts, and notes. Microsoft Outlook is not free though; you must purchase it outright or pay a subscription for it if you want to use it.

The Evolution of Microsoft Outlook

A screenshot of the Microsoft Outlook Express interface.

Microsoft Outlook was introduced to the public in 1997 and was included with Microsoft Office 97. Outlook Express was included with Windows XP (and was the only free version). Since then, Microsoft has released an abundance of updated versions, each offering more features than the one before it.

Microsoft Outlook is included in many of the Microsoft Office application suites, including various versions Microsoft Office 2010, 2013, and 2016, and Microsoft 365. It’s important to note that not all versions include Outlook though. As an example, Microsoft Outlook is available in Microsoft 365 Home but is not included in Office Home & Student 2016 for PC.

Microsoft Outlook is an application you pay for and install on your device. An Outlook email address is a free email address from Microsoft, and can be accessed for free from the Outlook webmail portal: https://outlook.live.com/.

Do You Need Microsoft Outlook?

A screen shot of the Mail app in Windows 10.

If you only want to send and receive emails, you don’t need to purchase Microsoft Outlook. You can use the Mail application included with Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. Both offer a desktop mail program. You can also get your email from your email provider’s web site (like https://mail.google.com/mail/). If you need to do more than that though, you’ll need a more powerful email management program.

With Microsoft Outlook you can sync your personal data with your phone, tablet, and other computers, provided you can log in to those with your Microsoft Account. You can sort your email into folders based on rules you create, send Out Of Office messages automatically, flag emails for follow up, and get email from Exchange servers. The latter means that you can get work email as well as personal email from the same Microsoft Outlook application, even when you are away from the office. You can't do that with the Mail app that comes with Windows 10. You can also delay the sending of emails, ask for receipts, and more.

It’s also possible to integrate your personal data with Microsoft Outlook. It includes an address book, calendar, task list, and virtual sticky notes. What you put in the calendar can be synced to your other devices. You can delegate tasks to others. You can also share and delegate calendars.

Do You Have Microsoft Outlook?

A screenshot showing the Outlook icon on the Start menu.

You might already have a version of Microsoft Outlook on your computer, tablet, or even your phone. Before you make a purchase you should find out.

To see if you have Microsoft Outlook installed on your Windows device:

  1. From the Search window on the Taskbar (Windows 10), the Start screen (Windows 8.1), or from the Search window on the Start menu (Windows 7), type Outlook and press Enter.
  2. Look for an Outlook entry.

To find out if you have a version of Outlook on your Mac, look for it in the Finder sidebar, under Applications. To find out if you have Microsoft Outlook on your phone; perform a search from any search area.

Where to Get Microsoft Outlook

A screen shot of the Lifewire article How To Sign up For And Install Office 365 Using Windows.
Sign up for and install Office 365.

If you are sure you don’t already have a Microsoft Office suite that includes Outlook, you can get the latest version of Microsoft Outlook with Microsoft 365. Microsoft 365 is a subscription though, something you pay for monthly. If you’re not interested in paying monthly, consider purchasing Microsoft Outlook outright.

Some employers, community colleges, and universities offer Microsoft 365 free to their employees and students.

You can compare and purchase all of the available editions and suites at the Microsoft Store. Microsoft Outlook is available now in the following Office Suites:


  • You can purchase Microsoft Outlook separately for PC or Mac.

Once you decide to make the purchase, you’ll follow the steps required to download the installation files. With that done, you’ll run the installation program. It’s straightforward and mostly foolproof. If you opt for Microsoft 365.

Microsoft Outlook has Lots of Identities

A picture of a pair of shoes on pavement with question marks around them.
 Michael Zwahlen / EyeEm/Getty Images

People reference Microsoft Outlook in many ways and using a lot of different terms. This creates confusion around Microsoft Outlook, which is quite simply, a single application for managing email and other personal data. However, for the sake of completeness, understand you might hear Microsoft Outlook referred to in these terms as well:

  • Outlook
  • Outlook 365
  • Outlook email
  • Microsoft email
  • Outlook Express
  • Outlook Online
  • Outlook Hotmail
  • Microsoft Office email
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