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What Is MS Outlook? (Pro Email Software Tool)

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Read Time: 9 mins
This post is part of a series called How to Use Microsoft Outlook (Essential Tutorial Guide).
How to Email Large Files as Attachments in MS Outlook
How to Find Missing Emails in MS Outlook (Where Is My Email?)

Email is a huge part of most people's day. According to one source, the average business person sends and receives over 100 messages a day. We rely on email so much, that many of check it constantly—even when we're in the bathroom or in bed.

With so much time spent on email, obviously the email package we choose is important. There are a lot of email systems out there and one of the most popular is Microsoft Outlook.

Are you thinking about using MS Outlook or does your company already use Outlook? If so, you need to know what Microsoft Outlook is used for. That's where this tutorial can help.

You may be aware that Microsoft Outlook is an email package that's part of the Microsoft Office productivity suite. What you may not know is that it can do much more than just send and receive email messages.

In this tutorial, you'll learn all about Outlook. We'll define Outlook for you. You'll discover what Outlook is used for. Plus, we'll discuss the difference between Microsoft Outlook and Outlook.com.

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Before going further in learning how to use Microsoft Outlook, be sure to grab our Free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery. It's packed with inbox organization strategies and killer tips for managing all your incoming email more efficiently.

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Now let's learn what Outlook is and how it's used. 

What Is Outlook Email?

You may wonder what Microsoft Outlook is. You probably already know that it's email software included with a paid Microsoft Office subscription. And you'd be right. But Outlook has more capabilities than just email.

Outlook can help you organize your schedule with a calendar and task lists, store contact information, send reminders, and more. It's no wonder that Outlook is often referred to as a personal information manager (PIM).

If you're considering using Outlook for your organizational and email needs, it's important to understand that there may be some differences in the tool depending on which version you've got. Outlook has been around since the late 1990s, and there've been a lot of changes over the years. With older versions, there may be some differences in the user interface and some of the newer features may be missing. For the purposes of this series of tutorials, we'll be talking about MS Outlook 2016.

If you don't have Microsoft Office but want to use Outlook, don't worry. You can use Microsoft's free web-based email, Outlook.com. The web-based version has many of the same features as the desktop version of Outlook, although there are some differences. (If you had a Hotmail or Windows Live account, you may have it already since those accounts were converted to Outlook.com)

What Is Outlook.com?

Do you know the difference between Outlook.com and Microsoft Outlook?

Many people refer to Outlook email when they're actually talking about the free web-based Outlook.com email software. Not only are the names of the two software packages similar, they also share some functionality. But there are some major differences.

Here's what you need to know about the differences between MS Outlook and Outlook.com:

  1. Cost. MS Outlook is part of your paid Microsoft Office subscription, which also includes the latest Office software. Outlook.com, is a free web-based email package with some of the features of Outlook.
  2. Ads. MS Outlook has no ads. The Outlook.com interface, on the other hand, does have visible ads (although they're kept to a minimum).
  3. Your own server. Outlook can be configured to run on your own mail server, making it ideal for companies and organizations. Outlook.com runs on the web.
  4. Inbox size. Outlook.com users have up to 15 GB storage space. MS Office 365 users get 50 GB of storage to start. (Outlook users operating with a Microsoft Enterprise account may have even more space.)
  5. Attachment size. The combined file size limit for Outlook.com is 20 MB. For business Outlook accounts, the combined file limit also starts at 20 MB. You can learn how to handle large email attachments in Outlook with this tutorial.
  6. Technical support. Outlook.com doesn't include phone support, although you can contact support via contact form. You may also be able to find answers to your questions here. With recent versions of MS Office (which includes Outlook), however, you can reach a support professional by phone.

Still, if you're looking for a basic free email package to meet your needs Outlook.com may fit the bill. For a comparison between Outlook.com and Gmail (another free email package) study this tutorial:

Note: Unless otherwise noted, this tutorial refers to Microsoft Outlook (available with Microsoft Office) and not the web-based Outlook.com. Although, some features do work for both email platforms.

Microsoft Outlook Advantages

If you're using Microsoft Outlook for your email or information management needs, congratulations. It's a solid choice—and you're not alone. According to Microsoft by the numbers there are over a billion Microsoft Office users worldwide. That means there are a lot of Outlook users.

There are some definite benefits to using Microsoft Outlook compared to other email providers. Here are just a few:

  • Popular in many large organizations. Research from iDatalabs indicates that over 40,000 companies use Microsoft Outlook worldwide. What this means is that if you understand how to use Outlook, you've already got a useful skill for many workplaces.
  • Works well with MS Exchange. Microsoft exchange is an enterprise-level server used by schools, businesses, and other large organizations.
  • Compatible with popular software. Naturally, Outlook works seamlessly with Microsoft Office. But it also works well with many other add-ins available through the Microsoft office store.
  • Includes organizational tools. Even without add-ins, Outlook includes its own organizational tools such as an address book and calendar.
  • Good security. Outlook has many security features. For example, it offers two-factor authentication, message encryption, and the ability to see recent account activity.
  • Technical support. Microsoft offers technical telephone support (additional cost for some plans), which is available 24/7. If you've got a problem, this is a huge advantage.

What Is Microsoft Outlook Used For?

We've already touched on some of the uses of Microsoft outlook, but here's a more complete list:

  • Email. This is probably the most basic use of Outlook. Use it to send and receive email messages.
  • Calendar. Use the built-in Outlook calendar to schedule and track your appointments and meetings. You can even schedule reminders for yourself. Calendars can also be shared.
  • Address book. Never lose a contact's information again. Outlook not only lets you store email information for your contacts, but also other information such as phone numbers and mailing addresses.
  • To do list. You can use MS Outlook to set up a task list for yourself.
  • Track sent messages. You can request a receipt for a message you send that tells you whether the message has been received or read. (This varies depending on the recipient's email system.)
  • Send attachments. If you've got images or documents you need to send, you can attach them to an email message.
  • Schedule resources. If you're using Outlook at work, control who uses conference rooms or shared equipment by adding them to meetings.
  • Sort messages using rules. The MS Outlook Rules tool is a handy way to automatically perform a number of tasks, but it's at its best when used to filter and file messages automatically.
  • Add graphic elements. Using MS Office's Smart Art capability, you can add images to the body of your emails and customize them from within the email.
  • Share your desktop in an email. Having a problem with an App? This little-known feature lets you take a screenshot from within email and insert it in your message.
  • Have live conversations. Office communicator lets you instant message your contacts if they're available.

And of course, there are many other ways to use Outlook as well. You can probably think of a few uses that are specific to your situation.

Get Started With MS Outlook

If you're using Outlook at your school or workplace, it may already be set up for you. Or you may be asked to work with your organization's IT specialist to set up Outlook email.

If you're a small business, solo professional, or if you're setting up Outlook for home use—it's up to you to set up your email system. These instructions from Microsoft can help you get your email account set up. 

Once your Outlook email is set up, this in-depth tutorial shows you how to write your first email:

You can find additional Outlook tutorials in our learning guide series, How to Use Microsoft Outlook (Essential Tutorial Guide). There are two ways to use the learning guide:

  1. Go through each tutorial for a more complete mastery of using MS Outlook.
  2. Pick and choose only the Outlook tutorials you need or that interest you.

How to Make Your Outlook Messages More Professional

Once you've started using Microsoft Outlook as your email package, you'll want to make sure that your email messages are as professional as possible so that you make a good impression. Here's a list of email tutorials that will teach you how to write professional emails on a variety of subjects:

More Helpful Email Tips and Strategies

Don't forget to sign up to the Tuts+ Business newsletter and grab our free eBookThe Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery. It's packed with inbox organization strategies and killer tips for managing all your incoming email more efficiently. 

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As you've discovered, MS Outlook is a powerful Pro email software tool. Now that we've explained what Outlook is and what Outlook is used for, you've got the information you need to decide whether it's for you.

Whether you decide to use Microsoft Outlook on your own or you're working for a company that uses Outlook, there are some definite benefits to using Microsoft Outlook compared to other email providers. 

Why not get started today?

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