Microsoft has set aside the "Scroogle" sarcasm, at least for now, in its latest effort to win customers from its high-tech rival. Redmond is getting practical with a new service to ease importing your Gmail account to Outlook.
The tool is rolling out over the next few weeks. But will it make a difference?
"When we first launched Outlook.com, we set out to shake up the world of personal e-mail," said Microsoft's Naoto Sunagawa. "We wanted to build a service that was personal and designed for modern devices, with a clean user experience and smart and powerful tools that let our customers get things done faster."
According to Sunagawa, the response to Outlook.com has been overwhelmingly positive, but discontent with e-mail services is growing. Indeed, he pointed to an Ipsos Public Affairs study from November that revealed one in four consumers would switch e-mail providers if it was easier to do.
The study also highlighted the areas that customers identified as most important. Those areas include: ensuring ads don't interfere with the e-mail experience (70 percent); offering advanced spam filters (69 percent); providing an easy-to-understand user interface (67 percent); and not scanning the contents of e-mail to serve ads (58 percent).
"We have focused on many of these areas with Outlook.com, and so for those looking to make a change in their personal e-mail provider, Outlook.com is a natural choice," Sunagawa said. "It's easier than ever to switch."
Wooing Discontented Users
And with that Sunagawa threw down the gauntlet. He first acknowledged that the thought of switching to a new Web-based e-mail service can seem daunting even if you are frustrated with your current provider. Then he introduced a new functionality in Outlook.com that promises to do the heavy lifting.
"All you need to do is follow a few simple steps to connect your Gmail account (using OAuth) to your Outlook.com account (if you don't already have one, it's easy to get)," he said. "This will import your Gmail e-mails into your Outlook.com inbox and, because you've connected both accounts, your Google contacts will automatically appear in Outlook.com."
Sunagawa said the structure of your inbox, including read/unread status of your e-mails, will be preserved. The new tool will even set up your Gmail address as a "send-only" account so you can continue to send e-mail from your @gmail.com address, right from Outlook.com, if you still want to.
Ready To Start?
Here's hot it works: Sign in with your Outlook.com account. If you want all your mail from Gmail to be copied into a new set of subfolders, click "Options" and select that option, otherwise click "Start." Next, sign in to Gmail and grant the tool access to your account. Once you approve this, Sunagawa explained, Microsoft will start copying e-mail into your account and you'll be navigated back to Outlook.com.
"The mail that's currently in your inbox will be copied from Gmail. We won't make any changes to your Gmail account," he said. "Once you start the import process, we'll send you step-by-step instructions on how to set up e-mail auto-forwarding. This enables your Gmail account to forward all your future e-mail to Outlook.com."
Everything else happens in the background. You can even use Outlook.com while the import is processing. We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the tool. He told us he's skeptical about it driving a major exodus.
"This tool may have some impact at the margins but it's unlikely to result in a significant migration of Gmail users to Outlook.com or back to Microsoft mail from Gmail," Sterling said.