Under the Surface 

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As a service, it's actually pretty great compared to Gmail — more storage (unlimited vs. 10GB), larger allowable attachments (300MB vs. 25MB), "Quick Views" smart filtering, a preview window, the "Sweep" feature that automatically deletes emails according to parameters you set, better integration with Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter where you can see your friends' updates in your email inbox, and so on. Where it falls down is on the technical side with no IMAP support as of yet — IMAP being one of the most prevalent internet standards for retrieving email next to POP and a feature that's crucial for some email power users. That's not saying Microsoft won't support IMAP soon, but right now it's a key advantage that will keep a lot of users on Gmail.

Microsoft's announcements don't stop with the Surface and Outlook.com. The release build of Windows 8 will be available on Oct. 26, and I think people will be pleasantly surprised despite a lot of negative reviews from people that can't seem to figure it out (hint: it's not that hard). As well, the first Windows 8 phones will be available in November — and there's a fair amount of worry in the tech world over the lack of actual phones to demo and the fact that the companies that got the developer kit to make apps early have been sworn to secrecy. This has led to suggestions that the operating system may not be ready, or could be half-baked at launch.

Microsoft also released a major update to its Xbox operating system last week, which some say makes the interface too cluttered and billboard-y. It does offer a few advantages — you can get rid of Facebook and Twitter apps because you can simply access those services through the web. The "Zune" marketplace has also been replaced with separate marketplaces for video and music, and you can customize your layout by "pinning" the boxes you need into one folder. No word on how it will work with Smart Glass — a new protocol announced by Windows that will allow you to use one Windows device to control another.

All of Microsoft's recent announcements show off the new visual and operational synergy they're trying to achieve between products, where all devices and programs look and work in similar ways. It's an approach that both Apple and Google are already using with a lot of success, although if Microsoft pulls it off — and we'll know within a few months how they're doing — then it's safe to say they may have leapfrogged the competition.

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