In a summer chock-full of surprise Microsoft announcements, the Redmond software giant has once again managed to pull off the unthinkable. Hotmail, one of the oldest and most popular webmail services, is no more. In its place is Outlook.com, a slimmed down Metro-style version of the popular Office application – and it’s fantastic. To be fair, the transition from Hotmail to Outlook.com is still under way, but for all intents and purposes, Hotmail has been replaced. @outlook.com email addresses are now up for grabs, but before you migrate over from @hotmail.com or @live.com – a completely optional move – there are a few things you should know if you own a Windows Phone.

Your Microsoft account, formerly known as a Windows Live ID, is the core of the Windows Phone experience. Your primary email address, calendar, contacts, social updates, photos, Office documents, cloud storage, Xbox Gamertag, and Zune Music Pass subscription are all deeply connected to your Microsoft account. So much so, in fact, that switching to a different account requires a hard reset. Changing the second-level domain of the Microsoft account associated with your Windows Phone will cause some services to stop working on your device. It’s easy to fix with a hard reset, but that requires setting up your device all over again. Thankfully, there are a few ways to take advantage of an Outlook.com email address without migrating your account and resetting your phone.

Create an @outlook.com alias

The easiest solution is to simply create an Outlook alias in the options menu. Aliases are virtual addresses that you can send and receive email from on Outlook.com. The problem with aliases is that they aren’t true Microsoft accounts, so you can’t use them to log into Outlook.com, SkyDrive, or Xbox. You also have to be using Outlook.com if you want to send from the email address. Aliases are great for many situations, but they aren’t necessarily ideal for use as your primary email address.

Create a new @outlook.com account and forward incoming emails to your @hotmail.com account

Another option – and the one I chose to go with – is to create a new @outlook.com account and set it to forward all incoming emails to the address of your choice. In this case, your current @hotmail.com or @live.com account. You won’t be able to send from your @outlook.com email while logged into your primary account, but at least you’ll have access to it and you’ll receive alerts whenever something comes in. Plus, you can link your accounts to easily switch back and forth between addresses.

Create a new @outlook.com account and have all incoming @hotmail.com emails forwarded to it

If you want to make your life as complex as possible, you could create a new @outlook.com account and set your @hotmail.com or @live.com accounts to forward to it. Of course, in this case, you’ll probably want to make your @outlook.com email address your primary one. That means you’ll have to change the email address associated with your Xbox LIVE Gamertag, cancel and restart your Zune Music Pass (losing your play count and history in the process), transfer over all of your data, etc. As you can see, it’s kind of a hassle. Although, to be fair, it’s no worse than switching over from another service entirely. The biggest problem with this solution, however, is that switching Microsoft accounts means you’ll lose access to previously purchased apps on the new account. This won’t be a problem initially, since the old email address will most likely be the primary account on your Windows Phone until you reset it or get a new one, but it’ll eventually pose a problem. As a result, I don’t recommend doing this unless you’re coming over from another service. In which case, you won’t have any apps to lose anyway.

Bite the bullet and migrate now or wait for Windows Phone 8 and do it at the same time

If none of these options are satisfactory, you can always bite the bullet and migrate your account now – resetting your phone in the process – or wait for Windows Phone 8 and migrate while you’re transitioning over to a new device. This is the best solution, since you’ll already be reinstalling your apps, but it requires you to wait a few months and risk losing your preferred @outlook.com address. You could try creating an alias now and, later on down the road, removing it and migrating your account to the same address, but there’s no telling how long you’ll have to wait before the old alias is available to migrate to.

There is another option: stick with your @Hotmail.com or @live.com email address. Outlook’s new domain looks and sounds much more professional, but the old ones will continue to function even after Hotmail is retired at some undetermined point in the future. Regardless of which option you choose, Outlook.com is definitely worth checking out. It’s arguably the best email service you can use.

[ZDNet]