Outlook also lets you create alternate email addresses without signing up for additional accounts — up to five a year, or up to 15 at any one time. So you can create ‘‘UseThisForSpam(at)Outlook.com’’ for dealings with merchants, whereas Google requires you to set up a new Gmail account to get that second address, which you can then link with your main account.
Outlook matches Gmail in letting you use Outlook.com to manage email from other services, such as Gmail and AOL, though neither works with Yahoo Mail unless you pay $20 a year for a Plus account.
Outlook also has tools for keeping your mailbox clean. You can automatically move or delete messages older than a certain number of days. You can also choose to keep only the latest message from that sender. Be careful, though, as I had inadvertently deleted more than 300 messages in a few seconds that way. A more useful option would have been to move only messages that had been read, or to move rather than delete all but the latest message.
One nice touch: Most services send deleted messages to a trash folder, and once you empty that, the messages are gone forever. As a Web-based service, Outlook will try to retrieve messages from its servers if they are still there after you've emptied the trash.
— Outlook creates special filters for viewing certain types of messages.
Click ‘‘Shipping updates,’’ for instance, for quick access to emails with UPS, FedEx and other tracking numbers for products you are expecting from merchants. That’s something Microsoft also had with its older email services, but major rivals have yet to adopt. (Yahoo comes close but sends you to an outside service, Slice, for that.)
Another filter offers quick access to messages with photo attachments or photo links, and yet another gives you messages with documents.
All of these filters missed some of the relevant messages though, while one gave me a bunch of messages from scammers with attachments to open.
— Outlook links with Microsoft’s online storage service, SkyDrive, to handle large files.
No longer do you have to worry about whether your friend or colleague can receive large attachments. Just let Outlook add the file to SkyDrive and create a link to send by email. You get 7 gigabytes of storage for free. Google doesn’t integrate its own storage service, Google Drive, with Gmail the same way.
And speaking of storage, Outlook.com offers unlimited space, matching offerings from Yahoo Inc. and AOL Inc. Gmail has a 10 GB limit on free accounts.
Again, the advances in Outlook.com are mostly neat rather than essential. If you’re already using a Microsoft email account, you might as well upgrade as you'll be forced to in a few months anyway. Outlook.com does feel cleaner and smoother than what I had been using for Hotmail.
Microsoft is trying to lure Gmail users by pointing out that Google targets ads based on the contents of email messages. If such targeting is a concern for you, you can switch to Outlook.com while keeping your Gmail address. Your Gmail messages would go to Outlook, and you can send messages from there with your Gmail address in the ‘‘from’’ line. Setting that up is relatively easy but slow. After more than four days, my new Outlook.com account has managed to grab Gmail messages through only 2009.
That said, Google Inc. has been upfront about targeting from the start, and I've gotten used to it. At times, I've actually found the ads on Gmail entertaining and more interesting than the ones I'm now seeing on Outlook.com — ads for pricey products I don’t need or want.
Microsoft did a good job refreshing its email service, but that might not be enough for you to switch if you are already happy with your service.
Anick Jesdanun, deputy technology editor for The Associated Press, can be reached at njesdanun(at)ap.org.