Microsoft said Thursday that it will now import Yahoo Mail via Outlook.com, providing a front door to another major email provider.
Microsoft also reiterated that you can import email from other providers that use the IMAP protocol, a capability that Outlook.com added last year.
In the past year or so, Microsoft, like its rivals Apple and Google, have tried to develop a complementary set of services and apps that share information and present a cohesive store of knowledge, as Microsoft most recently did in Windows Phone 8.1. But Microsoft has also embraced services like Facebook, Yelp, and others, serving as a portal of sorts for that information.
With email, Microsoft's chosen the same strategy. Last December, Microsoft unveiled an import tool to bring Gmail into the Outlook.com umbrella, allowing you to manage your Gmail through the Outlook.com interface. Now Microsoft has done the same for Yahoo Mail.
Specifically, the Gmail import tool now accommodates Yahoo Mail and other IMAP-based services as well. While it was possible to import IMAP-based email since last fall, "it was a laborious task," a spokesman for Microsoft said via email. The new tool does all the heavy lifting, he said.
A recent study by Radius Global revealed that 81% of all email users are using multiple email services, Microsoft noted. "Keeping up with numerous accounts can be time-consuming, but moving to a single email service is not as easy as it sounds," Mike Shackwitz, principal director of program management for Outlook.com for Microsoft, wrote in a blog post. "It’s often hard to give up your older email account, because that’s the one your friends and family know, and it’s the one you use to sign in to so many different services."
If users do use Outlook.com to manage their email, however, this removes a very important reason to visit the Yahoo website. And that means less traffic and less user interaction for Yahoo. Is it a sort of revenge for Yahoo's complaints about its search agreement with Microsoft? Possibly? But it also simply points out that if data can flow freely between services, the provider with the most convenience will probably win. Microsoft is clearly hoping that users who are satisfied with the new Outlook.com design won't want to leave.
Updated at 11:56 AM with additional details and clarifications from Microsoft.