Microsoft loses out to Gmail as king of Web-based mail. Can Outlook.com take back the throne?

Thanks to skyrocketing signups, Gmail has become the biggest email provider on the Web, beating out Microsoft's combined Hotmail and Outlook.com, as well as Yahoo Mail. Will the newly unveiled Outlook.com help Microsoft take back the lead?

GeekWire reports that based on comScore-provided information, Gmail had almost 306 million unique visitors in December, 2012, an increase of 21% over the 252 million unique visitors it had in December of 2011. The combination of Hotmail and Outlook.com had a little over 305 million unique visitors for December, 2012, so fell to second place behind Gmail. Microsoft's Web-based mail service shrank from the previous year, according to comScore, when it had 317 million unique users. Yahoo's number of unique users also shrank from December 2011 to 2012, from just about 300 million to under 300 million.

The rise of Gmail explains why Microsoft launched its "Scroogled" campaign that targets what the campaign says is Gmail's privacy-invading practices.

Today Microsoft officially took Outlook.com out of its preview phase. All Hotmail users will be automatically converted to the new Outlook.com service, although they'll have the option to keep their Hotmail addresses. Microsoft expects the conversion to be completed by the summer.

I've been using Outlook.com for quite some time during its Preview phase, and I'm a fan. I find its interface clean and simple to use, and its mail folder structure better than Gmail's labels. Twitter and Facebook integration is a plus as well. And the Quick views feature, which lets you see all mail with document attachments, photo attachments, or lets you filter mail by other methods, is excellent as well. Overall, Outlook.com has the feel of a desktop mail client more than Web-based mail.

But will it be enough to help Microsoft overtake Gmail? I'm not sure that it will. Microsoft touts Outlook.com's growth, saying that it has grown to 60 million users during its six-month preview. And a Microsoft spokesperson told Geekwire:

"We consider Outlook.com's fast growth and positive momentum to be a clear indicator that we're headed in the right direction to achieve our goal of providing the world's best personal cloud email for a billion users."

But the fact remains that if comScore is to be believed, Gmail added more than 50 million unique visitors in the last year, while Microsoft's combined Hotmail and Outlook.com saw their unique visitors shrink by more than 10 million. So I'm not convinced that Outlook.com's excellent interface and feature set, and Microsoft's Scroogled campaign will be able to give Microsoft back the lead.

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