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Five Ways Outlook.com Beats Gmail -- and One Way it Doesn't

Microsoft's surprisingly good Hotmail replacement offers a lot of business-savvy features. But it stumbles on a major one.

As you'll recall from last week, Microsoft just took the wraps off Outlook.com, a.k.a. the Webmail service formerly known as Hotmail.

Yawn, right? After all, what could Outlook.com possibly bring to the table that Gmail doesn't already have -- or do better?

As it turns out, quite a bit. I've spent the last several days test-driving the new service, and while it's far from perfect, Outlook.com actually offers a number of features that could lure business users away from Gmail.

Here are five areas where I think Outlook.com beats Gmail -- and one where, unfortunately, it comes up short.

1. More storage, larger attachments

Gmail gives you 10GB of email storage space and limits you to attachments of 25MB or less.

Outlook.com puts no cap on email storage and lets you send attachments as large as 100MB. In fact, if you link up to your SkyDrive account, you can bump up to 300MB attachments.

2. Smarter filtering

Right out of the box, Outlook automatically sorts incoming messages into buckets like Documents, Photos, and Shipping Updates. One click is all it takes to see all the messages that meet those criteria.

This feature is called Quick Views, and it's insanely handy. Sure, you can accomplish the same thing via Gmail's labels and filters, but this does the work for you.

Outlook.com also offers folders, a huge plus for users who never much cared for Gmail's labels-only system.

3. Better looking

Although Google has made some strides in improving Gmail's appearance, it continues to be a cluttered, homely mess.

Outlook.com, on the other hand, boasts a simple, streamlined, visually appealing interface, with amenities like a reading pane (bottom or right, your choice) and rollover options like mark as read/unread, delete, and flag.

Scoff if you want, but it's because Gmail is so aesthetically challenged that I've continued to cling to an actual mail client. Outlook.com is just plain prettier.

4. Better at managing junk mail

Gmail rocks pretty hard at filtering out junk mail, but Outlook.com appears to have solid spam filters of its own. Even better, it automatically finds and filters newsletters and gives you the option of unsubscribing -- even if the newsletter itself doesn't.

In fact, here's what you'll see in that instance: "We'll ask BothersomeCompany to take you off their mailing list. If they send anything in the meantime, we'll put it in Junk."

Now that's some conscientious, helpful junk filtering.

5. Smarter with social networks

Email is a social business nowadays, by which I mean it should have hooks into your preferred social networks.

Outlook.com can link with Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter. Once you've signed in with any of them, you'll see your contacts' status updates and other information. Plus, you'll be able to retweet, leave Facebook comments, and so on, all from a handy-dandy sidebar.

Now for the bad news

Needless to say, Gmail has some catching up to do, at least in these areas. But there's one feature Outlook.com is sorely lacking, one that will likely keep me at arm's length: no IMAP support.

I consider IMAP essential to all my email activities, and it's one area where Gmail truly excels. Here's hoping Microsoft adds that capability as it continues to fine-tune Outlook's feature set.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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