Switching to web mail

In the last episode of ProdCast, Matthew Anderson talked about using Outlook Web Access in Office 365 instead of Outlook desktop application. From him I learned that some of the things that were previously missing from the web version of Outlook are now there, and it has some nice features not available in the Outlook Desktop application.

So two weeks ago I started an experiment to see if I could live with using just Outlook Web Access.

Starting the experiment

When I work on my Windows PC, I do a lot from muscle memory–I automatically launch  the applications and websites that I work with every day without actively thinking about it. So I knew that if I left desktop Outlook on my computers, I would wind up using the desktop version of Outlook.

I wanted to burn the boats  and totally uninstall Outlook from my computers to prevent myself from launching the desktop application out of habit, but since that is not very easy to do with Office 365, I settled for removing my email account from Outlook desktop.

The results of the experiment 

Two weeks in, I would say that the experiment has been a success–I’ve definitely been able to stay on top of my inbox and be productive without using the Outlook desktop application, and I’ve discovered a few surprising benefits (and one primary drawback).

My findings

  • Using Outlook Web makes switching between different computers easier. While desktop Outlook shares the same account on different computers, there are things that do not synchronize between them (like the drafts folder and local archives). Using Outlook Web means that I can instantly pick up where I left off and have the same experience on any computer, even if I haven’t used that computer before.
  • I now have the same email signature everywhere. Sure, with Outlook desktop application you can do tricks like saving your signature in a synchronized folder in OneDrive or Dropbox or pay for third party services to synchronize your signatures, but by using Outlook web I get the same signature on all computers automatically.
  • Using Outlook Web makes me more organized and controls windows explosion. If you are like me and are easily distracted, using Outlook leads to many open windows–when you write a message, read an email (full details), respond to a message, check an appointment, or any number of other actions, a new window is opened. In the normal course of a day I would have 15-20 Outlook message windows open on my computer, each in a different state of completion. Say I was typing a message and then had to start a meeting, and then I forgot about that and started another message. At the end of the day when I shut down, sometimes those messages would be forgotten in my draft folder, and it would take a long time to shut down all of the open windows. With Outlook web, everything stays in one window. Emails that are in progress display at the bottom of the window, and when I log in again, they are there.  messages
  • My computer now boots faster. I’ve never been one to use sleep or hibernate–I like a clean start. with Outlook desktop, startup was slow because I would have to wait for Outlook to load and usually type in my password.  With Outlook web I can log in more quickly as I have Outlook web as one of my default browser tabs.
  • There are some great features that are in Outlook Web that are not yet in Outlook Desktop (or if they are, I haven’t found them there): sweep

Sweep lets you quickly move all messages from a certain address to a different folder, delete, move all but the latest message, and make it happen for any future message. This is fantastic for rapid inbox organization.

undo send

You ever send a message in Outlook and then immediately regret it? Then you hit recall message and then not only does the recipient have your original message but then they also have a message telling them that you didn’t want to send it to them, so it draws their attention to the original message. With undo send you can give yourself up to 10 seconds to undo sending a message.

website preview

Website preview shows a text preview of webiste links in emails. This is really useful and the preview displays in the recipient’s message.

  • Using Outlook Web makes me spend less time in my email. Based on my My Analytics stats for the past two weeks, my time spent in email has dropped 15%. I think this is because Outlook Web Access adds an extra step or two to get to my inbox. While this may be less convenient, I find this extra effort required to be  a good thing and it is enough to discourage me from living in my email whenever there is a break between meetings–I still can easily get to my inbox, but it isn’t automatic.

The only downside

The only real gap I’ve found in using Outlook web is that email hyperlinks clicked in other applications can’t create a message in Outlook web access. This hasn’t been a big deal for me, as I don’t do it that frequently, but I could imagine that for some users that would be a big inconvenience.


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