Microsoft's Outlook takes aim at Google's Gmail

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft is so confident it has the Internet’s best email service that it is about to spend at least $30 million to send its message across the U.S.

The barrage begins today when Microsoft’s twist on email, Outlook.com, escalates an assault on rival services from Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., AOL Inc. and a long list of Internet service providers.

As part of the process, all users of Microsoft’s Hotmail and other email services operating under different domains such as MSN.com will be automatically converted to Outlook.com by the summer, if they don’t voluntarily switch before then.

To welcome new users, Microsoft is financing a marketing blitz. Outlook.com will be featured in ads running on TV, radio stations, websites, billboards and buses. Microsoft expects to spend somewhere between $30 million to $90 million on the Outlook campaign, which will run for at least three months.

By Microsoft’s own admission, Hotmail had lost the competitive edge that once made it the world’s largest email service. The lack of innovation left an opening for Google to exploit when it unveiled Gmail nearly nine years ago.

Gmail is now the industry leader, although estimates on its popularity vary. Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash., is counting on Outlook.com to catapult the company back to the top of the email heap.

Email remains a key battleground. People still regularly check their inboxes, albeit increasingly on their smartphones. The recurring email habit provides Internet companies a way to keep people coming back to websites.

It gives people a reason to log in during their visits so it’s easier for email providers to track their activities. Frequent visits and personal identification are two of the keys to selling ads, the main way most websites make money.

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