Although a relatively new technology, email seems to be one of the oldest forms of communications around. And even though it still remains very popular in the business sector, it would appear that the email usage is being replaced by other forms of social media communication. But when it comes to an alternative to regular mail, there’s nothing that seems to come quite close.

In today’s world there are many different email providers and each claim to have the best service. Today we will check the claims of two such companies, Google and Microsoft by name. We will take a look at Gmail, which has been around since 2005 and Outlook, Microsoft’s latest darling. No, this is not Outlook the desktop client; this is Outlook.com the email service. And yes, it can be accessed by Outlook the desktop client.

Monthly Users

Calculating how many users access a particular email service each month isn’t the easiest thing to calculate as the way this is measured varies widely. For once we will go by the companies own statements themselves. Google claims that as of earlier last year they had crossed the 425 million monthly user threshold for Gmail. By comparison, Microsoft claims that in the first 6 months of launching Outlook, they have hit the 60 million user mark with a third of those users having Gmail accounts.

If you should count Microsoft’s other email services such as Hotmail, Live, MSN etc. it would be larger than Gmail, but as a single service, Google remains bigger with Microsoft, at the time of this writing, adding 10 million users a month. Granted this adoption rate will lessen as the service gets older.

Interface

The biggest difference between Outlook.com and Hotmail is the interface. Yes Microsoft has included some great features which we will discuss later, but the company has reimagined and redesigned what they think is the perfect email service. What you ultimately get from Microsoft’s vision is Outlook.com, an email service that draws heavy references to Office 2013 and 365, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft’s new interface style. Yes we’re trying not to use the word metro here as Microsoft no longer uses it to describe their products thanks to litigation concerns.

Gmail on the other hand looks like your standard email client. Buttons are smaller, the client is more condensed and more importantly, it meshes more with Google’s web services.

This may come as no surprise, but I personally prefer the layout of Outlook.com. Not only is it fresh, but it is a seamless design that carries over into all of Microsoft’s other new products.

Spam

Microsoft claims that they have revamped their spam filtration and anyone who used Hotmail during the late nineties and early 2000’s know just how bad spam with Hotmail used to be. So the question is did they nail it. Yes they did. I have been using an Outlook account for the past 4 months and have been surprised at how well Microsoft’s new spam filters work. It used to surprise me when I wasn’t deleting at least half a dozen if not more spam emails from my Hotmail inbox every day. Now I’m shocked when one gets through. Also I am yet to have a false positive.

Gmail has always had a good spam filter and that continues to be the case. I do get my fair amount of spam through my Gmail account, but it is miniscule, generally 1 or 2 pieces that Google misses. Then again I can’t really knock them for this as I use Gmail a lot more for business than I do Outlook, though I am in the process of moving from Gmail to Outlook.

Overall both spam filters are excellent and it would be unfair to rank one above the other. Other users may have different stories but as the user of two Gmail accounts and 1 Outlook account, I can honestly attest to the fact that there isn’t much difference.

Privacy

Microsoft seems to be ticked off at the fact that Google mines user data to advertise products and services to them. While we can see Redmond’s point, Google is a service oriented company and it makes most of its money by providing free services and charging advertisers to reach its users. Microsoft is primarily a software oriented company who so happens to have a search engine, a very popular email client and some other highly rated web services.

That being said, Microsoft claims that Outlook comes with 60% less ads than Gmail. I didn’t have the time or patience to continually log on and off and check each ad being displayed in my inbox, but from a careful look I’d say I’m inclined to believe Microsoft. Unlike Google which seems to find a way to stick an ad in every possible crevice and corner in Gmail, Outlook.com looks largely untouched with ads coming up in the right sidebar of the pane as well as at the top of the page (sometimes).

My biggest issue with either company is not related to hacking but who they will divulge information to. For instance, Google has long been an enemy of China, Iran and Russia as it does not hand over user data and very rarely censors content in these areas. Same thing can be said for Microsoft. Yet Google seems not to have a problem with handing over user data to the U.S government without a warrant under their so called “terrorist deterrent” claims. It’s not much different for Microsoft.

The one area where both companies seem to differ widely is what it will do with user data. Microsoft has been a huge proponent of “do not track” while Google hates the idea. Although Microsoft has long been the subject of anti-competitive practices and has paid dearly in court for their schemes to monopolize the markets in which they do business, they have stayed clear of antitrust issues involving user data. Most recently Google had its South Korean offices raided and was the subject of a large DOJ investigation before it was miraculously dropped. The company has not been forthcoming concerning what it does with user data though they claim not to offer that data to the government under most circumstances.

In the end, who do you trust? A company whose business model is selling products and services or one whose is built around selling advertisements to companies after mining a user’s data? Some may take offense to this analogy, but at the end of the day Microsoft makes most of its money from Windows and Office. Google makes theirs from advertisements.

Features

Gmail’s biggest features include the ability to automatically sort incoming messages, integrated GTalk, threaded email messages and integration with Google Drive and YouTube. Gmail offers 10GB of free space, and growing with attachment sizes of 25MB.

Microsoft really ups the ante by providing integration with LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook . You can chat with your Facebook contacts from your inbox and yes you can chat with Messenger and Skype contacts from your inbox. Microsoft offers unlimited inbox space, 25MB limit for attachments with the ability to increase that to 10GB with the use of SkyDrive. Just like Google, they integrate many of their other features into the email client. You can also automatically sort incoming messages into different folders and you can pin messages to the top of your inbox.
Overall Microsoft is attempting to be more social and isn’t afraid to integrate rivaling companies social networks into their product. Google seems distant cutting off integration support for some of the most popular social media services.

But when it comes down to the core operation, both companies are on par. The bells and whistles may not appeal to everyone and so it could be a home run for Microsoft or a technical KO to Google depending on how you look at it.

Conclusion

Google may have the single most used email client in the world, and they have done an extremely good job of challenging Microsoft and making them do better. However, with Outlook.com, Microsoft has taken a leap ahead of Google by integrating most of its services, providing a fresh user interface, much less advertisements and the powerful backing of Office and SkyDrive. It remains to see if this will ultimately lead to them overtaking Google, but going by current trends, such a thought may not be too far off.