Tag Archives: Microsoft

Forza Horizon 4′s British Setting Makes It Feel Like Racing In A Witcher Game

The Forza Horizon games are great non-racing games. You try to drive really fast along a predetermined path, but they’re not about hugging turns or calibrating tire pressure the way the main Forza Motorsport games are. Forza Horizon 4 is no different, but it’s a little more beautiful. It’s better in some ways, as all…

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What Neural Networks, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning Actually Do In Your Apps

When an app claims to be powered by “artificial intelligence” it feels like you’re in the future. What does that really mean, though? We’re taking a look at what buzzwords like AI, machine learning, and neural networks really mean and whether they actually help improve your apps.

Just recently, Google and Microsoft both added neural network learning to their translation apps. Google said it’s using machine learning to suggest playlists. Todoist says it’s using AI to suggest when you should finish a task. Any.do claims its AI-powered bot can do some tasks for you. All that’s just from last week. Some of it is marketing fluff to make new features sound impressive, but sometimes the changes are legitimately useful. “Artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” and “neural networks” all describe ways for computers to do more advanced tasks and learn from their environment. While you may hear them used interchangeably by app developers, they can be very different in practice.

Neural Networks Analyze Complex Data By Simulating the Human Brain

Artificial neural networks (ANNs or simply “neural networks” for short) refer to a specific type of learning model that emulates the way synapses work in your brain. Traditional computing uses a series of logic statements to perform a task. Neural networks, on the other hand, use a network of nodes (which act like neurons) and edges (which act like synapses) to process data. Inputs are then run through the system and a series of outputs are generated.

That output is then compared to known data. For example, say you want to train a computer to recognize a picture of a dog. You’d run millions of pictures of a dog through the network to see what images it decided looked like dogs. A human would then confirm which images are actually dogs. The system then favors the pathways through the neural network that led to the correct answer. Over time and millions of iterations, the network will eventually improve the accuracy of its results.

To see how this works in action, you can try out Google’s Quick, Draw! experiment here. In this case, Google is training a network to recognize doodles. It compares the doodle you draw to examples drawn by other people. The network is told what the doodles are and then trained to recognize future doodles based on what the past ones look like. Even if your drawing skills suck (like mine do), the network is pretty good at recognizing basic shapes like submarines, house plants, and ducks.

Neural networks aren’t the right solution for everything, but they excel at dealing with complex data. Google and Microsoft using neural networks to power their translation apps is legitimately exciting because translating languages is hard. We’ve all seen broken translations, but neural network learning could let the system learn from correct translations to get better over time. We’ve seen a similar thing happen with voice transcription. After introducing neural network learning to Google Voice, transcription errors were reduced by 49%. You may not notice it right away and it won’t be perfect, but this type of learning genuinely makes complex data analysis better which can lead to more natural features in your apps.

Machine Learning Teaches Computers to Improve With Practice

Machine learning is a broad term that encompasses anything where you teach a machine to improve at a task on its own. More specifically, it refers to any system where a machine’s performance at completing a task gets better solely through more experience performing that task. Neural networks are an example of machine learning, but they are not the only way a machine can learn.

For example, one alternative method of machine learning is called reinforcement learning. In this method, a computer performs a task and then it’s graded on the result. The video above from Android Authority uses a chess game as an example. A computer plays a complete game of chess and then it either wins or loses. If it wins, then it assigns a winning value to the series of moves it used during that game. After playing millions of games, the system can determine which moves are most likely to win based on the results of those games.

While neural networks are good for things like pattern recognition in images, other types of machine learning may be more useful for different tasks like determining what kind of music you like. To wit, Google says its music app will find you the music you want when you want it. It does this by selecting playlists for you based on your past behavior. If you ignore its suggestions, that would (presumably) be labeled as a failure. However, if you choose one of the suggestions, the process it used to give that suggestion is labeled as a success, so it reinforces the process that led to that suggestion.

In cases like this, you might not get the full benefit of machine learning if you don’t use the feature a lot. The first time you open Google’s music app, your recommendations will probably be pretty scattershot. The more you use it, the better the suggestions get. In theory, anyway. Machine learning isn’t a silver bullet, so you could still get junk recommendations. However, you’ll definitely get junk recommendations if you only open the music app once every six months. Without regular use to help it learn, machine learning suggestions aren’t much better than regular “smart” suggestions. As a buzzword, “machine learning” is vaguer than neural networks, but it still implies that the software you’re using will use your feedback to improve its performance.

Artificial Intelligence Just Means Anything That’s “Smart”

Just like neural networks are a form of machine learning, machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence. However, the category of what else counts as “artificial intelligence” is so poorly defined that it’s almost meaningless. While it conjures the mental image of futuristic sci-fi, in reality, we’ve already reached milestones that were previously considered the realm of future AI. For example, optical character recognition was once considered too complex for a machine, but now an app on your phone can scan documents and turn them into text. Describing such a now-basic task as AI would make it sound more impressive than it is.

The reason that basic phone tasks can be considered AI is because there are actually two very different categories of artificial intelligence. Weak or narrow AI describes any system that’s designed for a narrow task or set of tasks. For example, Google Assistant and Siri—while powerful—are designed to do a very narrow set of tasks. Namely, take specifics series of voice commands and return answers or launch apps. Research into artificial intelligence powers those features, but it’s still considered “weak.”

In contrast, strong AI—otherwise known as artificial general intelligence or “full aI”—is a system that can perform any task that a human can. It also doesn’t exist. If you were hoping that your to-do list app would be powered by a cute robot voiced by Alan Tudyk, that’s a long way off. Since virtually any AI you’d actually use is considered weak AI, the phrase “artificial intelligence” in an app description really just means “it’s a smart app.” You might get some cool suggestions, but don’t expect it to rival the intelligence of a human.

While the semantics may be muddy, the practical research in AI fields is so useful you’ve probably already incorporated it into your daily life. Every time your phone automatically remembers where you parked, recognizes faces in your photos, get search suggestions, or automatically groups all your vacation pictures together, you’re benefitting either directly or indirectly from AI research. To a certain extent, “artificial intelligence” really just means apps getting smarter, which is what you’d expect anyway. However, machine learning and neural networks are uniquely suited to improving certain kinds of tasks. If an app just says it’s using “AI” it’s less meaningful than any type of machine learning.

It’s also worth pointing out that neural networks and machine learning are not all created equal. Saying that an app uses machine learning to do something better is a bit like saying a camera is better because it’s “digital.” Yes, digital cameras can do some things that film cameras can’t, but that doesn’t mean that every digital photograph is better than every film photograph. It’s all in how you use it. Some companies will be able to develop powerful neural networks that do really complicated things that make your life better. Others will slap a machine learning label on a feature that already offered “smart” suggestions and you’ll ignore it just the same.

From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, machine learning and neural networks are very exciting. However, if you’re reading an app description that uses these phrases, you can just read it as “This feature is slightly smarter, probably” and continue doing what you’ve always done: judging apps by how useful they are to you.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

What Neural Networks, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning Actually Do In Your Apps

When an app claims to be powered by “artificial intelligence” it feels like you’re in the future. What does that really mean, though? We’re taking a look at what buzzwords like AI, machine learning, and neural networks really mean and whether they actually help improve your apps.

Read more…

Microsoft Acquires LinkedIn For $26.2B, Deal to Close By End of 2016

Today, Microsoft announced that it will be acquiring LinkedIn for $26.2B. The deal will keep LinkedIn’s existing CEO in place and the company will continue to operate independently.

The deal is expected to close by the end of 2016. In the video above, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner explain. There’s no indication yet as to how Microsoft intends to change LinkedIn under the new deal, if at all. Nadella said in the press release that he hopes the acquisition will “accelerate the growth of LinkedIn, as well as Microsoft Office 365 and Dynamics as we seek to empower every person and organization on the planet.” This may mean that LinkedIn will cooperate or even integrate with Microsoft’s various business-facing divisions, or it could just mean that Microsoft wants to dip a toe in all areas of the professional world. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Microsoft to acquire LinkedIn | Microsoft News

The Sunrise Calendar App Officially Shuts Down at the End of August

The Sunrise Calendar App Officially Shuts Down at the End of August

Sunrise, the calendar app that was bought by Microsoft last year, is officially sunsetting on August 31. You won’t be able to download it anymore, and the app will stop working altogether.

In a blog post that went up today, the Sunrise team explained that they won’t be able to support or update the Sunrise app anymore since they’ll be busy working on the Outlook app for iOS and Android. That means no new features, no more bug fixes, and the app is being removed from app stores in the next few days. Come August 31, the app will officially shut down and stop working altogether. So even if you download it before it disappears, it won’t do you any good. Sunrise was our previous pick for best calendar app on iPhone, but when Microsoft bought Sunrise and announced that it would be merging the app with Outlook, we made the switch to Fantastical 2.

http://lifehacker.com/5833969/the-be…

It’s almost time to say goodbye | Sunrise Blog via The Verge

Get the Newest Version of Windows Forever with Windows Insider

Get the Newest Version of Windows Forever with Windows Insider

The Anniversary update to Windows 10 is rolling out later this summer, but you can try out all the new features like Bash and notifications from your Android phone right now with the Windows Insider program.

Stay On the Cutting Edge With Windows Insider

Get the Newest Version of Windows Forever with Windows Insider

The Windows Insider program is designed to give adventurous users the chance to try out the newest version of Windows before anyone else does. For example, the Anniversary update brings a full Bash client, a smarter Cortana, a dark color scheme, and more. Insiders are the first to receive feature updates like these, but they also shoulder a lot of the risk of untested software (since you’re the ones testing it). However, with a few tweaks you can avoid most of those risks.

You’ll need to be running Windows 10 in order to enroll. Then follow these steps:

  1. Open Start menu and search for “Insider.”
  2. Click “Advanced Windows Update options.”
  3. Under “Get Insider builds” click “Get started.”
  4. Restart your PC to apply updates.

From this point on, you’ll be on the Insider channel and will be notified of new updates as they roll out. If you used the trick above to guarantee a Windows 10 license even after July 29th, then not only do you get Windows 10 for free, but you also get to check out any new features without paying a dime for upgrades. At least until Microsoft changes its policies.

What You Can Do As An Insider

Get the Newest Version of Windows Forever with Windows Insider

Being an Insider doesn’t just mean that you’re first on the list for free updates. Microsoft uses Insiders to get feedback on what’s working and what isn’t, and to tweak features before they’re released to the public. If you want to get involved in the feedback process, you’ll want to install the Insider Hub by following these steps:

  1. Search for “Apps & Features” in your Start menu.
  2. Click “Manage optional features.”
  3. Click “Add a feature.”
  4. Find the Insider Hub on the list and click Install.

If you don’t plan to actively contribute feedback, it’s safe to ignore this app most of the time, but it has a few useful purposes:

  • Get Preview Build Announcements: Click on the newspaper icon on the left side of the Insider app to read announcement posts. These are often a lot more detailed than what you’ll find on the Windows Blog. You’ll find information on updated Preview apps, known bugs, and release notes for new Preview builds.
  • Do Quests to Explore New Features: Whenever Microsoft adds new features to the preview builds, you can find Insider quests that walk you through how to use some of them. No, you don’t really need to follow these quests, but they’re a handy place to discover new features you might not have realized were added.
  • Provide Feedback and Vote On Changes: The Insider program also comes with the Windows Feedback app, which you can find either by searching for it from the Start menu, or clicking the shortcut in the Insider Hub. Here, you can browse feedback from other Insiders. If you’re having a problem with Windows, or are just annoyed by a change, you can probably find someone else who has the same problem here, or add it yourself.

Of course, if you’d rather ignore the Insider features and use the program to live on the bleeding edge of Windows, you can do that. The worst you’ll get is a very rare nag that asks how you like a certain feature. Beyond that, the Insider builds work just like regular Windows. I’ve been using the preview builds for over a year and my computer hasn’t melted. If you really don’t want to pay for Windows and you don’t mind living on the edge a little, this method should give you free Windows for as long as Microsoft keeps the Insider Program going.

http://lifehacker.com/find-out-if-yo…

First, You’ll Need Windows 10 to Join the Program

To become an Insider, you’ll need to have a copy of Windows 10 on your machine. Right now, you can still get Windows 10 for free, as long as you have a license for Windows 7, 8, or 8.1. After July 29th, the price will go up to $119 (though you can get an OEM version for $100). However, if you upgrade right now, you can “reserve” a license that you can use again in the future, as How-To Geek points out. When you upgrade to Windows 10, your computer is given a “device entitlement” which is sort of like an invisible, hardware-specific activation key. This allows that hardware to upgrade again in the future. You can secure your entitlement one of two ways:

  • Upgrade your computer like normal and roll it back. Microsoft’s nag icon makes sure you don’t forget how easy it is to upgrade to Windows 10. Once you do so, there will be an option in the Settings app to revert back to whichever version of Windows you upgraded from. You have a month to do this. Even if you revert back to an old version of Windows, you’ll keep your device entitlement and can upgrade again for free in the future. This method may uninstall some of your apps, so if you’d like everything to stay exactly the way you left it, you can try the next method.
  • Clone your system, then restore after upgrading. With this method, you’ll want to create a full clone or disk image of your system before upgrading to Windows 10. Once you’ve upgraded, you can restore your system from the backup you made to ensure everything is right where you left it, and you’ll be able to upgrade to Windows 10 again in the future.

For now, you can still use Windows 10, even if you don’t pay for it. Unlike previous versions, Windows 10 doesn’t stop working entirely if you don’t activate it. You’ll just be nagged with a watermark, and a few personalization features won’t work until you pay up. Switching to Insider builds may remove some of the nags, since each periodic update resets the clock on the nags Microsoft sends your way.

http://lifehacker.com/5839753/the-be…

Adjust Your Settings As An Insider to Limit Your Risk

Get the Newest Version of Windows Forever with Windows Insider

Microsoft doesn’t advise using Insider previews as a daily driver, but you can tweak a few settings in order to limit the risk to your machine.

Change Your Insider Level

There are three different levels of Insider builds, depending on how much risk you’re willing to take. The Fast level will give you the most bleeding edge, potentially broken updates Microsoft releases. The Slow level will take it easier, minimizing risk but still giving you pretty early updates. Finally, the Release Preview level (which should be the default when you first sign up) is the safest update channel. These are the builds that are ready for final testing before going out to the public at large.

To tweak these settings, search for “Insider” from the Start menu and choose “Advanced Windows Update options.” At the bottom of the window that opens, adjust the Insider Level slider. We recommend staying on Release Preview if you’re planning to use this machine regularly.

Defer Upgrades

You can also slow your update process down even further by deferring updates. This feature exists in Windows 10 Professional, Enterprise, and Education, but Windows 10 Home users don’t normally have the option. Ironically, becoming an Insider lets you “defer upgrades for several months.” This is especially handy if you want to get into the Insider program without the risk.

You can find this feature in the same menu where you adjusted your Insider level. At the top of the window, enable the checkbox that says “Defer upgrades.” Unfortunately, you can’t determine how long upgrades are deferred (and security patches will continue to rollout no matter what), but it at least gives you a long time to make sure Microsoft fixes any critical, computer-breaking bugs.

Boomerang for Outlook Releases Read Receipts, Desktop Calendar Integration

Boomerang for Outlook Releases Read Receipts, Desktop Calendar Integration

Boomerang is an awesome tool that allows you to schedule your emails to send at a later date or time. Today, they’ve released some useful updates on Outlook: read receipts and Desktop Outlook integration.

In a blog post on the updates, Boomerang explains that its new read receipt function works across all platforms and devices. Also, they don’t track or report IP addresses, devices, locations or other sensitive information in their read receipts. According to the release, all that’s included in the report is the time your email was opened. You can turn the functionality on or off straight from your email.

Beyond that, the new release makes it easier to access Boomerang’s Calendar assist so you can schedule meetings and send invites. Boomerang will now be integrated directly into the ribbon in Desktop Outlook, so it’s easier to access its Calendar features.

Head to the blog post for more updates, and check the app out at the link below.

Boomerang for Outlook

Microsoft’s Word Flow Keyboard Brings Easier One-Handed Texting to iOS

Microsoft released its popular Windows Phone keyboard, Word Flow, for the iPhone today, which lets you easily type texts with one hand and swipe to spell out words.

Word Flow’s “Arc mode” moves the keyboard to the corner of the screen so you can easily reach all of the keyboards buttons with just your thumb (you can see it in action in the video above). You can tap or swipe to spell things out, and Word Flow will predict what you’re trying to type and auto-correct mistakes. The more you use the keyboard, the more it learns and gets better at predicting text over time. It also looks at your phone contacts so it can try to predict names even faster. You can also customize the keyboard background with an image of your choice or one of the images that comes with the keyboard. You can download the keyboard for free at the link below.

http://lifehacker.com/the-best-third…

Word Flow Keyboard | iOS App Store via The Verge

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com

It’s hard to think about email without putting a G in front of it. Despite Gmail’s renown as one of the best email services on the internet, Microsoft’s Outlook.com has spent the last few years building itself into a competent competitor. In today’s showdown, we put these two behemoths of email to the test.

The Contenders

There are a ton of email services, but a few have risen to the top. After Outlook.com absorbed Hotmail, Gmail and Outlook.com became the two biggest email services on the internet, together totalling over a billion users. Their approaches to managing your email are similar, but there are some pretty distinct differences in features.

For our comparison, we’ll be looking at the apps themselves, and not necessarily the underlying service underneath. Technically, you can import Gmail messages into Outlook and vice versa, but what we’re interested in is how these services actually work in practice.

Gmail Set the Organization Standard, But Outlook Has Caught Up

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com

We’ve covered how powerful Gmail’s filters are and what you can do with them so extensively that we almost take them for granted. In Gmail, you can automatically sort emails by sender, keywords in the subject line or body, attachments, and by size. You can then use those filters to automatically mark messages as read, apply labels, respond with a canned message, delete them, and more. On top of this, Gmail uses labels and stars instead of folders. You can apply multiple labels your messages, which gives you greater flexibility in setting up exactly the kind of organization scheme you like, and stars let you set aside the most important emails for later. You can even enable Smart Labels that Google can apply labels like Finance and Travel automatically.

http://lifehacker.com/5993667/show-u…

Gmail also uses a priority inbox system to automatically find messages it believes are important to you. Emails are deemed “important” based on who you email, which messages you open, what you interact with and other criteria. You can also manually mark an email as important to help it learn.

Outlook’s approach to organization is a little more complicated. For starters, the site uses folders as the primary method for organizing your messages. By default, the left-hand pane shows a list of default folders, and you can create your own to organize your messages. You can pin emails so they remain at the top of a folder which is sort of but not exactly like Gmail’s stars. Outlook also has a feature called Clutter that finds emails you probably don’t care about and moves them to a separate Clutter folder. This lets you focus on your important messages and clear out the junk in one sweep.

http://lifehacker.com/5928102/outloo…

You can also add categories to your email, which function much like labels do. You can add categories and use those as criteria for rules (more on those in a second). However, by default, Outlook doesn’t show you your categories in the navigation pane. To see any categories, you have to navigate to Options > Layout > Categories and manually pick which categories are shown. On the one hand, this makes it hard to clutter up your inbox unless you choose to—in contrast, Gmail shows all labels unless you specifically hide them—but on the other, it was a pain to even find the option.

Similarly, Outlook’s filter counterparts are called Rules (a term borrowed from the desktop version of Outlook). When you’re viewing an email, you can create a Rule to filter messages like it. Otherwise, Rules are once again buried in Outlook’s Options menu. They have many of the same options as Gmail’s filters, but they’re not quite as robust. For example, you can’t automatically send a canned response based on a filter. However, for most situations, Rules and filters are pretty comparable.

Outlook Has a Streamlined Interface, But Gmail Has Several Layouts to Choose From

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com
I’m really excited about emailing myself.

Google famously likes to play around with Gmail’s interface, so you have a few different options to choose from. Most recently, Google introduced a tabbed inbox view that sorts your email into categories including Social for messages from social networking sites, Promotions for advertisement emails, and Updates for auto-generated emails like order confirmations or bills. For some, this was a godsend. Others wanted to turn it off immediately. On top of that, Google’s also experimenting with Inbox, a third alternative interface for Gmail. Inbox treats your email more like a to-do list where you mark each message as “Done” rather than as “read.” You can snooze emails until later and bundle related messages together. Between Inbox, Gmail’s tabbed inbox, and the normal priority inbox interface, you have many options for choosing how to present your email.

http://lifehacker.com/how-inbox-chan…

Gmail also has a ton of tweaks hiding in the Labs section of its settings. Here you can enable a ton of useful tweaks like a dedicated Mark as Read button, a Preview pane so you can read emails without leaving your message list, and canned responses. While many of these features are awesome tweaks that not everyone may want, some are also basic features that you probably shouldn’t have to hunt down to enable in 2016.

Outlook on the other hand uses a basic three panel design and sticks with it. On the left side, you can click on different folders and categories to navigate. In the middle panel, you’ll see a list of emails in that folder. Click an email and you’ll be able to read it in the third pane on the right. For anyone who’s used an email client that isn’t Gmail, it should look very familiar. Outlook doesn’t have as many options for customizing its interface in major ways as Gmail, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can still tweak the basics like where your display pane shows up, or what order messages appear in a conversation with Outlook.

Finally, both Outlook and Gmail have ads, though they appear in very different ways. In Gmail, you’ll see a couple of ads that look like regular emails under the Promotions tab. You can avoid them by turning off the promotions tab, disabling the tabbed inbox altogether, or using Inbox. In Outlook, the ads are full banners on the side of the screen. The only way (aside from ad blockers) to disable them is to pay $20/year for Ad-free Outlook. The silver lining, though, is that Microsoft promises Outlook won’t scan your email to target ads.

http://lifehacker.com/gmail-has-new-…

Gmail Has a Few Bonus Tricks, Outlook Has a Whole Store of Them

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com

No email client is an island. Google and Microsoft have a ton of other products built directly into their email client that make them pretty powerful. For simplicity, we’ll only include the services that you can use without actually having to leave your Gmail or Outlook tabs directly. However, each company has quick shortcuts to tons their other products, so part of your decision may be determined by which apps you use regularly every day.

In Gmail, Hangouts lives as a panel on the right side of the screen. Every chat you open will open along the bottom of your window. You can open minimize them while you’re checking your email and pop them open to reply to messages. You can also open a Tasks window that lives next to your open conversations so you can create a basic to-do list throughout the day. You can set due dates and provide descriptions for each task, but that’s about it. In the Labs section, you can enable a mini-calendar widget so you can see a very abbreviated view of your agenda for the day. That’s about all you can add to Gmail without downloading extensions to add services on top of Gmail.

In Outlook, you can use Skype for messaging just like Hangouts in Gmail. There’s also a Tasks section you can open from the shortcut menu in the top-left corner of Outlook. Unlike Gmail’s mini-Tasks widget, you can provide a ton more details for your tasks, including hours worked, set reminders for a task, and attach files from OneDrive to a task.

On top of this, Outlook has a bunch of add-ins that expand your inbox’s functionality. For example, you can open the Boomerang add-in to set a reminder to come back to an email after a few hours or days. You can open the Evernote add-in to save an email to one of your notebooks. There are over 100 more add-ins in the Office Store that can add new features to Outlook.

The Verdict: Gmail’s Friendly to Power Users, Outlook Is Awesome For Office Workers

In the past, Gmail was the de facto standard for how to manage your email online. While Microsoft has done well with Outlook on desktops, it’s only in recent years that its web email products have caught up. Now, it’s a toss up as to which one is better, but each has their strengths.

If you like endlessly tweaking or experimenting with your email setup, Gmail is for you. Google has not shied away from bold and controversial new designs that change how you use email. Sometimes those experiments work, sometimes they don’t, and everyone has their preference. Even if you’re not a fan of change, Gmail’s foundation of powerful filters, customizable labels, and automatic sorting is solid and allows a ton of room for tweaking your inbox to bend it to your will.

Outlook, on the other hand, is perfect for anyone who likes a streamlined workflow or uses a lot of professional productivity apps. Outlook puts the most relevant, important buttons right where you can see them and lets the power users go digging for options if they really want to. It also has deep ties not only to the rest of Microsoft’s Office apps, but plugins like Boomerang, Evernote, and more. While Google’s no slouch in the productivity department, Microsoft’s Outlook feels the most at home in an office setting.

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com

It’s hard to think about email without putting a G in front of it. Despite Gmail’s renown as one of the best email services on the internet, Microsoft’s Outlook.com has spent the last few years building itself into a competent competitor. In today’s showdown, we put these two behemoths of email to the test.

The Contenders

There are a ton of email services, but a few have risen to the top. After Outlook.com absorbed Hotmail, Gmail and Outlook.com became the two biggest email services on the internet, together totalling over a billion users. Their approaches to managing your email are similar, but there are some pretty distinct differences in features.

For our comparison, we’ll be looking at the apps themselves, and not necessarily the underlying service underneath. Technically, you can import Gmail messages into Outlook and vice versa, but what we’re interested in is how these services actually work in practice.

Gmail Set the Organization Standard, But Outlook Has Caught Up

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com

We’ve covered how powerful Gmail’s filters are and what you can do with them so extensively that we almost take them for granted. In Gmail, you can automatically sort emails by sender, keywords in the subject line or body, attachments, and by size. You can then use those filters to automatically mark messages as read, apply labels, respond with a canned message, delete them, and more. On top of this, Gmail uses labels and stars instead of folders. You can apply multiple labels your messages, which gives you greater flexibility in setting up exactly the kind of organization scheme you like, and stars let you set aside the most important emails for later. You can even enable Smart Labels that Google can apply labels like Finance and Travel automatically.

http://lifehacker.com/5993667/show-u…

Gmail also uses a priority inbox system to automatically find messages it believes are important to you. Emails are deemed “important” based on who you email, which messages you open, what you interact with and other criteria. You can also manually mark an email as important to help it learn.

Outlook’s approach to organization is a little more complicated. For starters, the site uses folders as the primary method for organizing your messages. By default, the left-hand pane shows a list of default folders, and you can create your own to organize your messages. You can pin emails so they remain at the top of a folder which is sort of but not exactly like Gmail’s stars. Outlook also has a feature called Clutter that finds emails you probably don’t care about and moves them to a separate Clutter folder. This lets you focus on your important messages and clear out the junk in one sweep.

http://lifehacker.com/5928102/outloo…

You can also add categories to your email, which function much like labels do. You can add categories and use those as criteria for rules (more on those in a second). However, by default, Outlook doesn’t show you your categories in the navigation pane. To see any categories, you have to navigate to Options > Layout > Categories and manually pick which categories are shown. On the one hand, this makes it hard to clutter up your inbox unless you choose to—in contrast, Gmail shows all labels unless you specifically hide them—but on the other, it was a pain to even find the option.

Similarly, Outlook’s filter counterparts are called Rules (a term borrowed from the desktop version of Outlook). When you’re viewing an email, you can create a Rule to filter messages like it. Otherwise, Rules are once again buried in Outlook’s Options menu. They have many of the same options as Gmail’s filters, but they’re not quite as robust. For example, you can’t automatically send a canned response based on a filter. However, for most situations, Rules and filters are pretty comparable.

Outlook Has a Streamlined Interface, But Gmail Has Several Layouts to Choose From

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com
I’m really excited about emailing myself.

Google famously likes to play around with Gmail’s interface, so you have a few different options to choose from. Most recently, Google introduced a tabbed inbox view that sorts your email into categories including Social for messages from social networking sites, Promotions for advertisement emails, and Updates for auto-generated emails like order confirmations or bills. For some, this was a godsend. Others wanted to turn it off immediately. On top of that, Google’s also experimenting with Inbox, a third alternative interface for Gmail. Inbox treats your email more like a to-do list where you mark each message as “Done” rather than as “read.” You can snooze emails until later and bundle related messages together. Between Inbox, Gmail’s tabbed inbox, and the normal priority inbox interface, you have many options for choosing how to present your email.

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Gmail also has a ton of tweaks hiding in the Labs section of its settings. Here you can enable a ton of useful tweaks like a dedicated Mark as Read button, a Preview pane so you can read emails without leaving your message list, and canned responses. While many of these features are awesome tweaks that not everyone may want, some are also basic features that you probably shouldn’t have to hunt down to enable in 2016.

Outlook on the other hand uses a basic three panel design and sticks with it. On the left side, you can click on different folders and categories to navigate. In the middle panel, you’ll see a list of emails in that folder. Click an email and you’ll be able to read it in the third pane on the right. For anyone who’s used an email client that isn’t Gmail, it should look very familiar. Outlook doesn’t have as many options for customizing its interface in major ways as Gmail, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can still tweak the basics like where your display pane shows up, or what order messages appear in a conversation with Outlook.

Finally, both Outlook and Gmail have ads, though they appear in very different ways. In Gmail, you’ll see a couple of ads that look like regular emails under the Promotions tab. You can avoid them by turning off the promotions tab, disabling the tabbed inbox altogether, or using Inbox. In Outlook, the ads are full banners on the side of the screen. The only way (aside from ad blockers) to disable them is to pay $20/year for Ad-free Outlook. The silver lining, though, is that Microsoft promises Outlook won’t scan your email to target ads.

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Gmail Has a Few Bonus Tricks, Outlook Has a Whole Store of Them

Web Email Showdown: Gmail vs. Outlook.com

No email client is an island. Google and Microsoft have a ton of other products built directly into their email client that make them pretty powerful. For simplicity, we’ll only include the services that you can use without actually having to leave your Gmail or Outlook tabs directly. However, each company has quick shortcuts to tons their other products, so part of your decision may be determined by which apps you use regularly every day.

In Gmail, Hangouts lives as a panel on the right side of the screen. Every chat you open will open along the bottom of your window. You can open minimize them while you’re checking your email and pop them open to reply to messages. You can also open a Tasks window that lives next to your open conversations so you can create a basic to-do list throughout the day. You can set due dates and provide descriptions for each task, but that’s about it. In the Labs section, you can enable a mini-calendar widget so you can see a very abbreviated view of your agenda for the day. That’s about all you can add to Gmail without downloading extensions to add services on top of Gmail.

In Outlook, you can use Skype for messaging just like Hangouts in Gmail. There’s also a Tasks section you can open from the shortcut menu in the top-left corner of Outlook. Unlike Gmail’s mini-Tasks widget, you can provide a ton more details for your tasks, including hours worked, set reminders for a task, and attach files from OneDrive to a task.

On top of this, Outlook has a bunch of add-ins that expand your inbox’s functionality. For example, you can open the Boomerang add-in to set a reminder to come back to an email after a few hours or days. You can open the Evernote add-in to save an email to one of your notebooks. There are over 100 more add-ins in the Office Store that can add new features to Outlook.

The Verdict: Gmail’s Friendly to Power Users, Outlook Is Awesome For Office Workers

In the past, Gmail was the de facto standard for how to manage your email online. While Microsoft has done well with Outlook on desktops, it’s only in recent years that its web email products have caught up. Now, it’s a toss up as to which one is better, but each has their strengths.

If you like endlessly tweaking or experimenting with your email setup, Gmail is for you. Google has not shied away from bold and controversial new designs that change how you use email. Sometimes those experiments work, sometimes they don’t, and everyone has their preference. Even if you’re not a fan of change, Gmail’s foundation of powerful filters, customizable labels, and automatic sorting is solid and allows a ton of room for tweaking your inbox to bend it to your will.

Outlook, on the other hand, is perfect for anyone who likes a streamlined workflow or uses a lot of professional productivity apps. Outlook puts the most relevant, important buttons right where you can see them and lets the power users go digging for options if they really want to. It also has deep ties not only to the rest of Microsoft’s Office apps, but plugins like Boomerang, Evernote, and more. While Google’s no slouch in the productivity department, Microsoft’s Outlook feels the most at home in an office setting.