Once upon a time there was just one ‘Microsoft Outlook‘ but these days there are at least nine current programs or services under the ‘Outlook’ name * . That’s before counting past versions that are still supported.
You’re totally excused for being confused because most people are, including many that work for Microsoft!
It’s important to know exactly which ‘Outlook’ you’re using because the support, help and tips are quite different for each.
Too often people talk of using ‘Outlook’ but that could mean Outlook the software (there are several types), the Outlook mobile apps (for Apple or Android), Outlook in a web browser, or Outlook.com the mail host. All very different things.
We regularly get emails asking for help with ‘Outlook’ where the writer doesn’t understand the difference between the software or email service that use the same name.
All that is before you consider the version of Outlook software (eg 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 or 365), Outlook for Windows, Outlook for Mac or the Outlook apps (for Apple or Android devices). And there’s Outlook.com — the former Hotmail service.
Why all these different Outlook’s?
Misguided Microsoft marketing mavens, possibly over a long, liquid lunch, decided it would be a good idea to use the existing ‘Outlook’ name for all of Redmond’s consumer email services and programs.
That’s OK as long as the ‘Outlook’ name is followed by something specific like “Outlook desktop for Windows” or “Outlook app for iOS”. But often that’s not done, especially at Microsoft.
The confusion that arises for customers and Microsoft’s own staff (especially in support) either didn’t occur to these decision makers or they just didn’t care. Either way, Microsoft’s paying customers waste a lot of time and money figuring out which ‘Outlook’ applies.
Microsoft’s documentation gets similarly confused. Microsoft’s own site and blogs often talk about ‘Outlook’ usually meaning ‘Outlook for Windows’ but it’s hard to be sure.
Microsoft should have known these troubles would happen. If the company had a better corporate memory for mistakes it would remember the confusion between ‘Outlook for Windows’ and ‘Outlook Express’. Two Windows email programs, both from Microsoft, but very different in behavior.
Same Name but very different
Just because it’s called ‘Outlook’ and comes from Microsoft doesn’t mean that help or support for one type of ‘Outlook’ applies to any other.
Outlook for Windows
For some, the only real Outlook is ‘Outlook for Windows’. Microsoft’s main email, calendar, contacts program.
Outlook for Windows started as desktop software for Exchange Server users only. It was ‘stolen’ from the Exchange Server group and became part of Microsoft Office for Windows.
If techy people talk about ‘Outlook’ they probably mean ‘Outlook for Windows’ – that’s Microsoft’s practice even in recent documentation. With so many Outlook’s about we should all try to be specific.
Current version: Outlook 365 for Windows as part of Microsoft 365 or Outlook 2021 for Windows part of Office 2021.
Outlook for Mac
The Mac equivalent of Outlook for Windows. Like the rest of ‘Office for Mac’, it’s similar but different from the Windows version of Outlook.
Current version: Outlook 365 for Mac as part of Microsoft 365 or Outlook 2021 for Mac part of Office 2021.
These are the mail, calendar and contact apps from Microsoft now available for Apple and Android devices.
Microsoft bought an app called ‘Acompli’ and it was reborn as an ‘Outlook’ app. Since its public release, Microsoft has poured a lot of effort and marketing into the Outlook app. They prompt users into using the Outlook app, it’s even now in the account setup within Outlook for Windows.
Despite the name, it has no direct relation to either Outlook for Windows or Mac.
There are features in the Outlook app that don’t exist (yet) in Outlook for Windows/Mac. The Windows/Mac Outlook programs have many features that aren’t supported in the Outlook app.
As regular Office-Watch.com readers know, we’re not fans of the Outlook app. As a single app, it’s harder to switch between Mail, Calendar and Contacts views. That’s one reason why Apple and Android have separate apps for each of those functions and so does Microsoft in Windows 11/10 desktop and mobile!
The Outlook apps are a severe breach of your privacy. To get mail and other information, the Outlook app gives your mail account login details to Microsoft’s servers which then collect mail for you. Microsoft has copies of your mail login and any email etc. that’s sent to/from the Outlook app which is, in turn, available to Microsoft and any government which legally requests it.
(Outlook for Windows/Mac have always worked differently. They directly connect to your mail host without Microsoft’s intervention).
Hotmail was Microsoft’s original free email hosting service. It was purchased by Microsoft back in 1997 after Google’s Gmail threatened.
In 2013, it was renamed ‘Outlook.com’ or ‘Outlook Mail’ which has added even more confusion. Less tech savvy people may talk about having ‘Outlook’ meaning they have an Outlook.com account – not Outlook software or app.
Outlook.com mailboxes can be accessed via email programs (like Outlook desktop), mobile apps (the native email apps in Apple/Android devices, the Outlook mobile apps or other apps) or the web browser.
Outlook mail web browser
Almost all mail hosting services have a web browser interface. Open your browser and go to gmail.com yahoo.com or outlook.com among many. For many people, it’s the only way they use email, instead of an email program like Outlook Windows/Mac.
The difference between a full email program and a web browser link to mail isn’t properly understood. The web browser view is just another way to check your email. You see the same email if you use Outlook for Windows/Mac or another email program/app.
Microsoft Office users normally use Outlook for Windows/Mac (because it’s part of the Office suite) and only use the web browser option as an alternative when necessary.
If you’re viewing email in any kind of web browser then it’s NOT an email program. It’s a complex, personalized web page.
Go to https://outlook.com in your browser, login and you’ll see all the Outlook.com mail, calendar, contacts saved on Microsoft’s servers.
At risk of saying the obvious, you’re using a web interface to your email if you’re using a web browser with a web link, as shown above.
To add yet more confusion, the Outlook.com web page was labelled ‘Outlook Mail’ and now just ‘Outlook’.
Outlook.com and other ‘webmail’ services like Gmail can be accessed using Outlook for Windows or Mac, instead of the browser pages.
Outlook web access/app aka OWA
If your organization uses Microsoft Exchange Server (like Microsoft 365 hosting) then you’ll probably know Outlook Web Access (OWA).
OWA is another form of web browser access to your email, calendar etc. Mostly it’s used as an alternative to let staff login to their emails from anywhere.
These days OWA has been renamed Outlook Web App – for no good reason except that everything has to be an app these days <sigh>.
Coming soon, as a preview, is “One Outlook”. That’s it’s current name, it was Project Monarch.
One Outlook is a web app but runs separately from a browser. The idea is to make a single app which runs across many platforms (at least Windows and Mac).
The future of One Outlook is unclear. It seems likely to be a replacement for the current Windows Mail and Calendar apps with the distinct possibility of being available for Mac computers too.
There’s talk of One Outlook replacing Outlook desktop for Windows/Mac but that seems unlikely. Certainly not in the near future because a LOT of work is needed on One Outlook before it gets anywhere near the features of Outlook desktop apps.
Outlook Express was the email program that came with Windows 98 until Windows XP.
Anyone with a really good memory will recall its original name, ‘Internet Mail and News’.
Despite the ‘Outlook’ name it was a totally different program to Outlook for Windows (part of MS Office). Help and tips about Outlook for Windows rarely applied to Outlook Express as well.
“The two apps do not share a common codebase, but they do share a common architectural philosophy. The similar names lead many people to conclude incorrectly that Outlook Express is a stripped-down version of Microsoft Outlook.”Wikipedia says of Outlook and Outlook Express.
Many people wasted time over the years asking for ‘Outlook’ help not realizing that they needed to specify ‘Outlook Express’.
Nine current Outlook releases
In case you’re wondering what the seven current Outlooks are:
- Outlook 365 for Windows
- Outlook 2021 for Windows
- Outlook 365 for Mac
- Outlook 2021 for Mac
- Outlook app for iOS (iPhone and iPad)
- Outlook app for Android devices
- Outlook web app
- One Outlook
It’s a tangled, confusing web of Outlooks that Microsoft has dumped on customers.
Add to that list the older, but still supported Outlook’s for Windows (2019, 2016 & 2013) and Mac (2019, 2016 and 2011).
Project Monarch or One Outlook to rule them all
First look at the new Microsoft Outlook – One Outlook
Editor look & feel changes coming in Word and Outlook
How to get ‘Plus’ email addresses, the new feature in Microsoft 365 and Outlook.com