Microsoft is shaking up its consumer-oriented e-mail offerings, further improving the value of its Office 365 subscriptions as it continues to push customers away from perpetual licenses.
Features formerly part of the Outlook.com Premium scheme, an annual subscription to Microsoft's consumer e-mail and calendaring service, are now rolled into the Office 365 Home and Personal subscriptions. But there's a downside to this: Outlook.com Premium is being discontinued (as spotted by Paul Thurrott). At least for now, that service includes features not found in Office 365 Home or Personal.
Consumer editions of Office 365, unlike their corporate counterparts, don't come with an Exchange account for e-mail. Rather, Microsoft's consumer e-mail solution is Outlook.com, an ad-supported free-mail provider. Separately from Office 365, Microsoft also sold Outlook.com Premium. This removed the ads, increased the size of your inbox, and allowed the use of Outlook.com mail with a custom domain name.
Some of these Premium advantages are now being enabled for Office 365 customers. Most visibly, the ads will go away. The size of your inbox is also increasing, from 15GB to 50GB. Office 365 users also get more robust virus scanning and malicious link detection. Microsoft also says that subscribers will receive premium support for any e-mail-related difficulties. These changes are being rolled out over the next month and will apply to all Outlook.com accounts associated with a subscription.
But one feature doesn't appear to be making the transition: personal domain names. Existing Outlook.com Premium customers will be able to renew their subscriptions (with Microsoft saying it has "no plans" to discontinue subscriptions for existing subscribers), but nobody new can join the service. It's not clear why personal domain names aren't being extended to Office 365 subscribers. Custom domain names are an important element of corporate Office 365 plans, and there's certainly lots of user interest in having the same capability for Office 365. Microsoft just hasn't done it for whatever reason.
Separately, in a bid to make Outlook.com a bit faster to use, the service will now migrate your data between datacenters to strive to keep it close to where you are. Previously, Outlook.com would store data in the same region as you set up your account; European accounts have their data in European servers, Americans in American ones, and so on.
Going forward, if you persistently access your account from somewhere far away from its datacenter, Outlook.com will start migrating it to be closer to where you now live. Reducing the distance between you and your data reduces the latency of the service, and so this makes using the Web interface snappier and more responsive. Microsoft says that it won't move data during short periods of long-distance access—it should stay put even if you go on vacation—but if you emigrate or are otherwise away from home for long periods, your e-mails will eventually follow you.