Submitted by: Martin Straub, SimplePowerIT

Recently Microsoft announced some of the most significant changes to Outlook since its inception in the late 1990’s.  Any changes to Microsoft’s flagship email software are likely to be closely scrutinized by those of us who spend a significant part of our day composing emails and managing our calendars.  Before diving into the changes and their impact, a bit of Outlook history can help add some perspective.

First off, it’s interesting to note that over the years, Outlook has referred to at least five different (and at times, very different) products.  Although Microsoft has developed some outstanding products in their history, naming the products in such a way as to differentiate and avoid confusion as to their purpose has never been one of their strengths. 

Outlook Desktop (and the topic of this article) was first released in 1997, bundled with Office and not surprisingly was known as Outlook 97.  It worked only on PCs running Windows (the Mac version would be introduced a few years later) and was somewhat revolutionary as being a “personal information manager.”  Not only did it provide email capabilities, but also bundled other functionality such as calendar, contacts, and tasks.  Although it was originally designed to work best with Microsoft’s Exchange email server, it was also intended to be an open platform for email from other sources as well.  Today, Outlook is still bundled with Office software, most notably with Office 365 (but also with non-subscription version, known as Outlook 2021).  Outlook on the web (previously known as Outlook Web Access) was introduced as a web-only alternative to Outlook desktop software and is still widely used today.  Outlook Mobile borrows some elements from both Outlook Web and Desktop and is available for Apple and Android devices.

In the early 2000’s, Microsoft made available (as a bundle with Windows and Internet Explorer) a different email software program known as “Outlook Express”.  Although many people considered them to be interchangeable, Outlook Express had a separate development path and was intended as a simpler platform for email only.  Windows XP was the last version to include Outlook Express; in subsequent versions (starting with Windows 7) Microsoft renamed it as Windows Mail. 

Finally, Microsoft also offers a free consumer email service(similar to Google’s Gmail) known as  At different times this service has been known as Windows Live and also Hotmail.  Depending on when you signed up, you may have an email address ending in either or  Somewhat confusingly, uses Outlook on the web as its interface.

It seems that Microsoft has realized that different versions of Outlook are indeed confusing, and finally now, 25+ years after its introduction, Outlook is getting a significant overhaul.  In a nutshell, Microsoft is attempting to merge the interfaces of Outlook on the web, mobile, Windows Mail, and Outlook into a more consistent design.  The PC version will be named Outlook for Windows and be included free with Windows 11. 

The most notable “improvement” is a simplified interface more consistent with other Outlook products and similar to Windows Mail.  For Outlook power users, this may not be a welcome change as it buries settings and features that were once easy to find in not always intuitive locations (or eliminates them entirely).  This new version is available as a “preview” now via a prominent toggle button in the upper right corner of Outlook 365.  Confusingly, Microsoft also hasn’t made clear if the fully featured Outlook Desktop will continue to be bundled with Office 365.

Although the new version brings a few interesting features such as “pinned” emails, snooze, and categories, for most part the “new” functionality is all about a simplified interface and not about the addition of functionality.  Also, as a “preview” version, some critical functions such as working offline, or support for 3rd party email services such as Gmail and most others are sparse or entirely absent. 

Will Microsoft finally get it right this time and produce a unified Outlook product that reduces confusion and places all functionality together in the same place?  While we typically encourage the adoption of new technology that offers improvements, until Microsoft provides additional guidance on their strategy and includes functionality on par with the current version, we advise proceeding with caution. 

If you have questions or would like additional information, contact SimplePowerIT today at (509) 433-7606

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