For most companies, especially start-ups, survival depends on saving every penny. One area where companies can make savings these days is email. There have always been a number of free email services (like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and up until recently, Hotmail) which some companies looking to squeeze the most out of their budgets have utilized. However, although they are very efficient, many companies feel that customers/potential customers might have more confidence in organizations with email addresses that incorporate their domain name.
Until recently, having an email system that incorporated your company’s domain name (for example, ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’) meant owning your own mail server and employing IT people to manage it. In 2006 Google introduced a new service called ‘Google Apps for Your Domain’. The service included a bundle of services that small businesses could use to improve productivity. These included Google Calendar, Google Talk, and Google Page Creator (now know as Google Sites). In 2007 email services were added to Google Apps, meaning it was then possible to use Google’s email services, but include your own domain name in your email address.
Google Apps morphed into a solid suite of solutions for small businesses, including Google Docs (now Google Drive) where 5 GBs of documents could be stored in the cloud for each Google Apps account. What was most attractive to small business owners was that there were 2 versions of Google Apps: a paid version with more storage space and more options, or a free ad-supported version that allowed 10 users per account.
Obviously a free service that allowed businesses to add their own domain name into email address proved extremely attractive, and millions of small business migrated to the service. However, everything changed December 7, 2012 - Google discontinued the free version of Google Apps, and although existing free Google Apps accounts remained free of charge, all new accounts beyond that date cost $50 per user – a substantial amount for some companies considering the economic climate then and now.
For companies looking for free email services that permit the use of company domain names in an email address, Microsoft’s new Outlook.com service is the only viable option.
Outlook.com is a reboot of Microsoft’s former Hotmail free online email service. It is the little brother of Office 365 for Businesses – a full on suite of collaboration services leveraging the success of Microsoft’s Office Suite. At $12.50 per user per month or $150 a year per user per year, the cost of this service might be off-putting for smaller companies.
Even though it is a free service, Outlook.com offers a very powerful alternative to paid services.
As already explained, the key benefit of using the Outlook.com is that it allows ‘Vanity Email’ addresses that include the company’s domain name. And Outlook.com offers an excellent email service. It offers a clean, easy-to-use interface with drag-and-drop functionality that means you can move email around easily.
Outlook.com allows you to create email aliases and offers a wealth of other options including, email forwarding, automated vacation replies, changeable fonts, HTML email signatures, junk email filters, advanced privacy settings and the ability to set rules to manage new messages. There’s pretty much everything a small business could want from email.
Alongside great email, Outlook.com offers contact management, a calendar, and SkyDrive, a cloud storage system that allows you to store files of any format online. This is a great option and at the moment offers 6.95 GB of storage – more than enough for the average company employee.
What is really excellent about Outlook.com’s SkyDrive function is that it allows users to create documents online. Outlook.com offers a cut-down version of MICROSOFT Office which is both intuitive (because everyone knows Microsoft products) and powerful – SkyDrive’s Office Apps probably offer 50% of the functionalities of those available to MICROSOFT Word, MICROSOFT Powerpoint, and MICROSOFT Excel. You can quite adequately create documents, presentations and spreadsheets online. In addition, documents, presentations and worksheets that have been created using desktop versions of Microsoft Office (Office 2007, Office 2010, etc.) and which are saved in SkyDrive, can be opened and edited using the SkyDrive Office Apps. There is also an excellent ‘share’ option that allows finished documents to be sent to whoever they are intended for.
One of the great things about Outlook.com’s SkyDrive function is that a SkyDrive App can be downloaded and installed onto a PC or laptop. Office documents, presentations and worksheets can be saved in a specific folder and the SkyDrive App will automatically save the document in SkyDrive. Likewise, if the document is altered in SkyDrive, the SkyDrive App ensures the correct version is copied to your PC or laptop, ensuring full version control.
Although the functionalities available in Outlook.com are very similar to those available through Google Apps, the consistency of a very recognizable interface makes Outlook.com more intuitive and easier to use. The added bonus is that company staff members are very likely to use Microsoft Office software during their daily duties, and the interplay between Microsoft Office on a PC and Outlook.com’s SkyDrive Office Apps is much tighter than between Google Drive Apps – it is impossible, for instance, to open a Microsoft Word document in Google Drive and edit it without converting the document from Microsoft Word to Google’s native format.
Without seeing Office 365, it is a little difficult to envisage its benefits over using Outlook.com in tandem with the PC or laptop-based Microsoft Office software a company’s staff members invariably use. At present there is a limit of 500 Outlook.com accounts you can set up under a ‘vanity’ address, so you could set up your whole company with this excellent service.