Occasionally in a competitive situation, we will hear an assertion from a customer that "Our users want Outlook because they use it at home".  It's almost stated as a truism amongst Microsoft supporters, and I've even seen it asserted by a major industry analyst.

The thing is, it might have been true five years ago, but it is most certainly not true today.

In 2009, the majority of users using e-mail "at home" (their personal or consumer e-mail address) are using a web-based mail service.  Forrester Research published over a year ago indicated that 66% of online adults in North America use a web-based mail service.  While that percentage is likely lower in other regions of the world where bandwidth isn't as pervasive, it's clear that the trend line is in the direction of web-based consumer mail services.  POP and IMAP are useful protocols, and some are using these protocols combined with the web-based services to download multiple mail accounts into a single client.  But my admittedly-anecdotal experience suggests that even in those cases where an installed client is used, it's not Outlook or Outlook Express.

I think part of the reason is that Outlook is no longer commonly bundled with new PCs, while Outlook Express was stagnant and Windows Mail is not much more interesting.  A brief look at dell.com today shows only one version of Microsoft Office containing Outlook available as an add-on to a new machine -- and it's the small business edition at US$200.  Techies using clients have switched pretty aggressively to newer, more open, more extensible clients like Thunderbird or Apple's Mail.App....if they use a web-based service, it's almost always gMail.  

In fact, I did a brief Twitter/Facebook survey yesterday, asking what is obviously a more-technical crowd the question of what mail they use for personal e-mail -- web-based or installed client.  I received 128 responses (98% of them are public in the Twitter stream or on my Facebook page), and they broke down as follows:

  • 63% -- Web-based mail (Most were gMail or unspecified...few mentions of Hotmail or Yahoo or others)
  • 17% -- Thunderbird
  • 9% -- Other (e.g. Notes)
  • 8% -- Apple Mail
  • 3% -- Outlook/Outlook Express

There's clear evidence to me that web-based mail is universally of increasing interest, and I'm taking that to heart in the context of Lotus iNotes.  But my initial motivator for looking more into this topic was being tired of hearing that users push for Outlook in the workplace because they use it at home.  I'm sure there would be a way to conduct a broader mainstream survey that would reduce some of the bias of my sample base, but I'm equally sure that the results would be similar.  

Now, can we kill this talking point from the MS crowd once and for all?  

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