What Is Outlook.com?

Is Outlook better than Gmail?

Screenshot of the Outlook logo


Outlook.com is the name of a suite of applications offered by Microsoft, one of which is Outlook. Outlook is a webmail service that lets you send and receive email in your web browser.

Outlook began as Hotmail before evolving into Outlook.com. Some of its features include a very clean interface, a huge amount of space for storing your emails and attachments, unobtrusive advertising, tons of subtle features for convenience, options for labels and custom folders, and more.

It's definitely worth test driving Outlook, but how does it compare to other similar services? There are lots of email providers available that you can start using today, so how do you know whether you should stick with Outlook or go with something else like Gmail?

Outlook.com is often confused for being just an email client, but it's actually much more than that. Yes, Outlook is used for sending and receiving email from your Hotmail, Live, or Outlook email address, but there are several other products available at Outlook.com, too. See the very bottom of this page for more on that.

Outlook Features

Most email providers these days don't just give you a basic email client that has a send and receive function for emails. There's usually a whole lot more integrated into the service, and that's definitely true for Outlook. It's not only highly functional as an email client, it includes several other awesome tools to make for an awesome email experience.

The actual emailing experience in Outlook is just as you'd expect. You can write rich text emails with bold, italic, and underlined text. Pick a font color, insert tables, add hyperlinks, indent, make lists, and more. It's really easy to use all of these features since they're listed on a single line in the compose menu.

Reading emails is also really easy to do with Outlook. Since tabs are supported, you can open emails in separate tabs within one Outlook page — you don't have to open each of them in a separate browser tab. This makes it easy to keep track of which emails you need to look at again without having to mark them as being unread.

If you get lots of attachments in your email, you'll love Outlook's integrated photo viewer. Photos are displayed in a large, slideshow format that makes it easy to see them, download them, and save them to your OneNote account.

The Immersive Reader feature in Outlook is really neat if you need to focus on an email and nothing else. Right-click (or tap-and-hold) a message and choose Show In Immersive Reader from the context menu. The email will fill the whole page and block out everything else in Outlook to make it easier to read. There's also an option to read the text to you, describe each word, and more.

Outlook.com lets you connect cloud storage services to your account so that when you send an email with file attachments, you can pick files from not only your computer and OneDrive account but also your Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox account.

Outlook also supports encryption. When you send an email from Outlook.com, you can choose to encrypt it, and even encrypt it and prevent the recipient from forwarding the message. When you encrypt emails in Outlook.com, the recipient has to provide a code to read the message, which they can only get in their email account — what this does is ensures that the intended recipient is the only one who can see the message.

Outlook vs Gmail

There's obviously a lot to like about Outlook, but the same is true for Gmail. Both are wildly popular email services and have their own set of pros and cons.

Email Compose Window

Outlook's compose window used when writing emails, is pretty small. You can drag the border of the window only so high, and it won't fill the whole page. This can make it hard to write emails if you're embedding lots of pictures or just want a distraction-free interface for writing.

On the other hand, Gmail's window for writing emails can be as large as you want it to be. It starts off small when you hit the Compose button, but from there, you can use the Full-screen button to make it much larger. Hold down the Shift key when you click it and you can even make that window its own separate window, as large as you want and with zero distractions.

Stealth Email Addresses

Gmail lets you append a + sign to the end of your email address to essentially create an unlimited number of alternative addresses for your account. There are definitely real uses for this, like when avoiding spam or making multiple accounts on the same website, but it's not as good as Outlook's.

For your Outlook account, you can create multiple email aliases that use your same email account as the delivery location. For example, while abc@outlook.com might be your primary address, you can build def@outlook.com as an alias and use it whenever you want like a regular email address. Messages will be delivered to your abc@outlook.com account.

Blocking Emails

"Sweeping" and blocking unwanted emails is really slick in Outlook. While it takes several clicks to ban a particular kind of message from your Gmail inbox, it takes just a few to "sweep" them from your Outlook.com email.

You can choose to ban emails from both individual senders and entire domain names, which is helpful if you like to experimentally join different subscriptions on the web.

Sorting by Size

When you're dealing with limited space in your email, it's important to be able to easily see which emails are taking up all that space. Both Gmail and Outlook can do this, but Outlook makes it much easier.

When you sort emails by size in Gmail, it's not really a sorting mechanism that you can use but a search operator. For example, you'd search for "larger:10m" to find all the emails that are larger than 10 MB.

In Outlook, you can use the Filter button to sort the emails by size and auto-categorize them into sections. For example, when you filter emails by size, you might see a section for all the messages that are 25–100 KB, between 10–25 KB, and so on. This is visually more appealing and easier to grasp than it is in Gmail.

Storage Space

Google offers a large 15 GB of space for Gmail and other Google services, and that's the same amount of space Microsoft's Outlook.com limits emails and file attachments to.

However, if you have an Office 365 or Office 365 Personal account, you get 50 GB of storage. Of course, you can pay for more space from your Google account, too.


Outlook keeps advertising to an elegant minimum. Instead of the distracting, contrasting text links that you see in Gmail, Outlook uses same-colored tiles. The visual experience is very subtle but Outlook's ads do not pull your eye as Gmail's do.

Outlook.com ads are served by Microsoft advertising, which you also have some control over. You can tell it that you don't want to see tailored advertising, or you can tell it which topics and brands you're willing to see. It's quite an unobtrusive system, and arguably the cleanest webmail advertising.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Outlook.com supports keyboard shortcuts, even Gmail shortcuts. This is splendid for people who are power email users! You can use Outlook keyboard shortcuts or Yahoo! Mail keyboard shortcuts, too. If you like to jump around the screen with hotkeys, you'll love this.

Folders and Labels

This is perhaps the biggest differentiator of Outlook.com vs Gmail. Unlike the counter-intuitive labeling system that Gmail confines you to, you can have both labels and separate folders in Outlook.com.

Since real categories are used instead of labels, it's possible to tag your email messages with multiple categories, and then save those emails in different folders. This is ideal for searching and retrieving messages later.

Microsoft nailed it with this dual-feature offering, and for many users, this alone is enough for them to switch from Gmail to Outlook.com.

Wording Confusion

Gmail is Gmail — period. If you go to Gmail.com to log in with your Gmail account, it's not confusing in the slightest. That can't be said for Outlook, at least not all the time.

For example, if you have a Hotmail account and you go to Hotmail.com, the website redirects to Outlook. It might seem like you can't log in since you're using a Hotmail account on the Outlook website. The same is true for Windows Live email addresses.

To make it even more confusing, the Outlook website is not at Outlook.com but Live.com! In fact, some people call Outlook the Outlook Web App, Outlook Mail, and even the same name as the whole suite, Outlook.com.

Although there are lots of names thrown around in relation to Outlook and the email client, every Microsoft email account is accessed through Outlook.com.

Other Outlook.com Products

When you go to Outlook.com, you're actually redirected to Outlook for your mail, but the URL changes to Microsoft's Live.com website. This is where Microsoft's whole suite of online products can be used.

As long as you have a Microsoft account, you can access a bunch of Microsoft products.

  • Outlook: The Outlook product is the email portion described above. It's officially called "Outlook on the web."
  • Calendar: Microsoft's calendar application is very similar to Gmail's in both design and function.
  • People: This is where Outlook.com stores your contacts. You can use the contacts in People directly from Outlook.

Some of the other products accessible from Outlook.com include Photos, OneDrive, Tasks, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Skype is also closely integrated into Outlook.com — you can get notifications from Skype even while you're in Outlook.