In Outlook.com Mail: Microsoft Reimagines Webmail, I discussed Microsoft’s new replacement for Hotmail, called Outlook.com. But Outlook.com isn’t just about email: The former Windows Live Contacts is also getting a major remake on Outlook.com via a new Metro-like People experience.
If you’re familiar with recent Microsoft contacts clients like the People hub (Windows Phone), People (Windows 8) and the People experience in Outlook 2013, Outlook.com’s People experience will be immediately familiar, both from a look and feel perspective and from its integration of contacts from both Windows Live (what we previously thought of, separately, as Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger, respectively) and some third party sources, including Facebook, Twitter, and more.
Microsoft refers to this sort of contacts solution as a “universal address book,” and it attempts to not only aggregate all your contacts into a single location, but also to link the same contacts from different sources into a single contact entry, or card. (You can of course manually link contacts that aren’t connected or, on the flipside, unlink those that are incorrect.)
As with the People solutions on Windows Phone and Windows 8, you can use the People experience on Outlook.com for all your interaction needs. Assuming the contact card for the person in question is connected to the right social network or other account type, you can do things like send them an email, send a Facebook message, write on their Facebook wall, send them a tweet, and so on. This all happens inline in the People experience, so you don’t need to open a new window or browse to a different web page. (Well, most of it does. If you choose to send an email, you will of course load the Outlook.com email experience, in a new tab.)
If you’re familiar with Windows Live Contacts, you’ll recognize all the same features, such as contact groups, the Favorites group from Messenger, and integration with what used to called Web Messenger; that client, now called Messaging, lets you connect to your contacts over both Facebook Messaging and Microsoft’s Messenger network. (It’s available from the email experience too.)
There are a variety of filtering capabilities, as you might imagine given the aggregation. Over on the right is a global filter, which lets you select which contacts to display (All Contacts, or you can choose from the list of sources) as well as options for display and sort order. On the left, above the contacts list, you can filter this view further by all contacts, available contacts (i.e. those that are online and thus available), or those that are in a specific group.
But wait, there’s more
People works as expected, I’d say, and I used this new experience to finally trim down my Hotmail contacts list considerably, a task I was putting off because it was sort of ponderous in the old UI. But as with the mail experience, there’s just something nice about a Metro-like UI—and it really does hit every Metro convention you can think of, including full-screen notifications for tasks that need a moment to complete—that works efficiently with the keyboard and mouse. It’s nicely done.
There is more coming. In the months ahead, Microsoft will integrate a new Skype web service directly into Outlook.com. So in addition to all the Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter, and other account integration bits, we’re going to get Skype integration, too, and it will all work from the web, with no PC-based client required. This will include presence (as with Messenger, a way for your contacts to see whether your online or not) but also Skype-based text, audio, and video chat. So in addition to clicking a Write on wall link, or whatever, to interact with Facebook, you’ll be able to call your contacts from People too, using Skype. (Your Skype contacts list will also be aggregated into this service.) This will work for your contacts using Skype on Windows or other platforms, Skype on the web, Skype on Facebook, or Skype integrated into Outlook 2013. Powerful stuff.
In any event, even today in preview form, we see a nice, clean, Metro-like contacts management solution that really works for me. I think it will work well for you too.