Outlook Premium mail service from Microsoft – first impressions

A while ago I heard that Microsoft was looking to bring custom domains to Outlook, understandable as trying to pick an email address if you have a common name is a bit of a nightmare (I was lucky I beat another Rob Butler to mine but it didn’t stop him trying to open dating accounts etc using my email address, but I digress…)



I received an invitation from Microsoft to sign up for their Outlook premium service.   The price will be $3.99 a month (unless you have an Office 365 subscription) which is comparable to professional email hosting services – although the support and service isn’t comparable in the least (more later)


I clicked on the link and setting up seemed to get off to a good start.  Microsoft has partnered up with GoDaddy to give you a free domain (no option to transfer in) but this is only provided for the first year then you seem to be on your own. This didn’t bother me as I chose to bring over my own email address currently hosted on Google Apps (free).

The setup talks you through the settings you need to change (although not how to do them – fortunately I know how to change my DNS/MX entries) to get the service up and running.  So far so good.

Once you have verified your domain you are asked to pick a single email address that you will use.  Don’t transfer over any domains if you use multiple addresses before the @ – you’ll lose them.  Also don’t let Microsoft register a domain if you want to use it for more than just email as this doesn’t seem to be possible at the moment either.

I chose my address and was told it was available – a relief as I can’t change what goes before the @ sign as I’ve been using this email address for years now.  This is where it started to go wrong.  When I try to complete setup I’m told helpfully that something has gone wrong and to try again.  There is no indication if this is my problem or Microsoft’s – and no-one to turn to for help (other than an online forum manned by enthusiasts)op3

This is where I’ve left the service.  There is now no option to go back and use a different custom domain with my outlook.com address and nobody to turn to for support so I’m stuck.  This doesn’t feel like a pilot programme to me but a very early alpha.

The premise might be good for someone who already has an Office 365 account so is getting a little extra value from their subscription, but it is a long way from competing with professional hosting companies who charge a similar amount for a vastly superior service.

I’ll post an update if I ever get this working, in the meantime I’ve reverted my settings so that my mail goes to the excellent (and well supported) Google Apps.

Come on Google – tidy up your Gmail interface


I’ve been a user of Gmail (as part of Google Apps) for about 3 years now, preferring to use the web interface over an offline email reader.  I’ve seen plenty of innovation over that time, and I’ve seen Google invest a serious amount of time and effort into tempting enterprise users onto the Gmail platform.I’ve maintained an ordinary Gmail account for the same amount of time, using it mainly to access other Google services like YouTube, Analytics and Webmaster tools.  Last week I had cause to upgrade my storage so I could upload lots of photos.   I had considered moving back to ‘standard’ Gmail to use the extra storage space I had paid for – Google will not be allowing users of the standard edition of Google Apps to buy more space, although most of the other features of a Google account will be available to Google Apps users when the full-account programme (for which I am a trusted tester) is rolled out later this year.Whilst a rather minor problem, I soon became irritated by the presence of the ‘Invite a friend’ box and the constant invitations to invite my friends to Gmail after sending each of them an email.  It is also extremely annoying to still have to suffer adverts next to my email after paying them for extra space.  After sending several emails a day these annoy me more and more until I return to my Google Apps account with its cleaner more professional interface.For once Google could take a leaf out of the new-improved Microsoft.  Microsoft lets paying customers suppress adverts (which I know you could also do with an add blocking browser extension).  Microsoft is also removing the signature line advertising that the email has been sent from hotmail.  They seem to appreciate that most people want a professional interface/experience and have taken steps to implement this.I’m surprised that Google has left these in given the wealth of minor interface improvements made since Gmail came out of beta.  Google – follow Microsoft’s lead.  Remove adverts for paying customers, and remove the ‘invite a friend’ features that detract from the Gmail experience.

Copy and Paste Customer Service.

For a long time I’ve seen lessons where staff have used the internet.  Teachers are getting better at finding ways of using the internet, but I still see lots of instances of straight copy and pasting.  Is this a good idea?Over the last week I’ve been patronised by two different companies who have responded to my enquiry by email.  I don’t think either company bothered to read my email properly, just scanned it for key words and then pasted a response.
I did a lot of Christmas shopping on the Internet at Boots, and am a sucker for their loyalty card points.  I’ve been to their ‘Advantage Card’ machines several times and points still haven’t been added to my account.  The first time I contacted them, the email I received had a few lines about my pending points and then a huge copy and pasted instruction set telling me visit a machine to collect my points.  Hadn’t they read the email I sent?  Perhaps it was just me so I tried my card again and contacted them once more.  I explained that I had tried my card several times in an Advantage machine and my points had not been added to my account.  This is the email I received:
Thank you for contacting us about collecting your pending points from our Advantage Card extra offers kiosks.

To collect your points you’ll need to insert your card into the Advantage Card extra offers kiosk in our larger stores, it looks similar to a cash machine. First it will find your name, and display that on the screen, then it will tell you how many points you have to spend, and they’ll be downloaded onto your card for you.

You’ll also have the opportunity to look through lots of exciting and exclusive offers simply by touching the screen.

How helpful!  Copy and paste customer service at its best.

Carbonite backupI’ve a problem in Windows 7.  Carbonite scans the Firefox profiles folder for changes and stops you installing add-ons for Firefox.  Disabling Carbonite or excluding the folder from backups stopped the issue so the problem was clearly with Carbonite.  This is the copy and pasted response I received from them.

Hello Rob and thank you for contacting Carbonite Customer Support.
Carbonite has been designed to operate in the background so as not to slow down your PC or interfere Internet connection while you are actively using your computer.It seems like the issue you are facing is not related with Carbonite, but with your system. We request you to please contact your local computer technician for the further assistance regarding this issues.
Please let us know if you need additional assistance.Sincerely,MaxwellCarbonite Customer SupportPerhaps it’s just me.  Perhaps it’s a generational perception? Teachers – join me on the quest to stop this abuse of copy and paste by teaching our students when it is appropriate to use copy and paste, and when it is not.  And be loud in your complaints when you receive this kind of response from a company – copy and paste customer service = poor customer service!