Take advantage of Outlook.com's clean interface by migrating your current e-mail accounts to a single Outlook.com inbox.
Dennis O'ReillyFormer CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
My first impression of Outlook.com was how uncluttered it looks. Even after I had imported more than 20,000 messages from three different Gmail accounts the new mail system's main screen retained its simple, elegant appearance.
When you open a message in Outlook.com more screen space is devoted to the content of the message itself than when you view the same message in Gmail.
Despite Google's reputation for simplicity, Gmail's interface is busy in comparison to Outlook.com's: more screen space in Gmail is taken up by tabs on the top, ads on the right side, and the chat/gadgets panel on the left.
You can choose the "cozy" or "compact" view from the Gmail Settings menu to make a bit more room for actual message content, but the bottom line is your messages are easier to read in Outlook.com than in Gmail.
Likewise, the screen for composing messages is easier to work with in Outlook.com than in Gmail: you enter recipient addresses in the left pane, the subject in a large text box at the top of the window, and the message itself below the straightforward formatting toolbar.
Gmail's message-composition screen pushes the content of the message farther down the page and looks much less like a word processor.
Outlook.com's interface advantage extends to the settings windows. Where Gmail shows all its settings under nearly a dozen tabs, Outlook.com compartmentalizes its settings into subcategories under five main headings, so you don't have to scroll through pages of options to find the one you're looking for.
Set Outlook.com to import your Gmail, POP3, IMAP accounts
To import mail to your Outlook.com address from an existing mail account, click the gear icon in the top-right corner of the Outlook.com window and choose "More mail settings." Select "Sending/receiving email from other accounts" under "Managing your account" and click "Add an email account."
This opens what is still labeled the Hotmail Options. Enter the account address and password and click Next. You're then asked to select a folder for the incoming mail to be placed in. By default, the system offers to create a new folder named for the mail server.
You can also choose a folder icon to indicate unread messages in the account's folder. After you click Save, the account is set up and a verification message is sent to the account. The confirmation screen warns that it can take up to a day to import the account's messages if there are a lot of them.
I can attest to that. The three Gmail accounts I imported to my new Outlook.com address had more than 20,000 messages combined, representing several gigabytes of data. It took a full three days for all the mail that has accumulated in these accounts to migrate to the Outlook.com address.
Yes, I admit that I need to become reacquainted with my Delete key. I've always been a bit of a mail packrat, and Gmail's huge storage limit discouraged me from gleaning the account's folders in the eight years I've been using the service.
Gmail's arrival was so long ago it's difficult to remember when the service was novel. I'm not a proponent of change for change's sake, but after a week of using Outlook.com as my primary mail service, it's easy to imagine making the switch from Gmail permanent.