Jerry Nixon on Windows: Vanity domains and Outlook.com

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Vanity domains and Outlook.com

imageOutlook.com is awesome. It is super-fast with hyper-advanced features that sort of make Yahoo!, Gmail, and AOL a great fit for your grandparents, but not you. Not tech-savvy you. What’s better is Outlook.com is free. Now you get an awesome web, comprehensive Office Outlook integration, Xbox integration, Windows Phone integration, and Microsoft Account integration for nothing.

To be completely open, Outlook.com is Microsoft’s attempt to shed that Hotmail vibe. Though Hotmail was great, people started to see Hotmail like Gmail and AOL. Perception is reality, after all. To some, Hotmail looked less professional to send your resume from – solely based on the domain. Enter Outlook.com. A new email domain that ships with a wholly updated backend service.

Outlook.com didn’t come free

The service itself relied on the Microsoft Account authentication service. Formerly called the Windows Live Id, the Microsoft Account was rebranded for Windows 8. It is how user can affirm that they are really who they claim to be. Before Outlook.com can serve a single email, the Microsoft Account server had to authenticate millions of users a day.

imageThe service also relied on what was formerly called Microsoft Skydrive. This service is Microsoft’s cloud storage service which Outlook.com uses in its suite of features including the ability to save attachments directly to the cloud. Every single user is allocated 7GB of versioned, storage that integrates completely with Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Before Outlook.com can serve a single email, Microsoft’s storage service had to be provisioned, reliable, and ready.

imageThe service also relied on Microsoft Windows Azure. Azure is Microsoft’s computational cloud, allowing applications to virtually host across one or thousands of servers to process trivial or massive workloads. Azure has the ability to scale up and down according to load, and it’s available to the smallest hobby app to the largest LOB system. Before Outlook.com can serve a single email, Windows Azure had to create the fabric on which it can run.

imageThe service also relied on Bing search. Bing search is the second largest internet search engine, holding around 27% (can we call it a third?) of all internet searches included as the default search for Windows 8, Windows Phone, Xbox, Yahoo, and Apple’s Siri (of all things). The ultimate product of Microsoft Research it powers Outlook.com’s ability to search email and auto-categorize large Inboxes. Before Outlook.com can serve a single email, Bing Search had to be able to index and quickly, accurately search documents.

The service also relied on Microsoft Advertising, now called Bing Ads. Bing Ads allows companies and marketers to deliver ads to Yahoo, Bing, and other Microsoft properties. Bing Ads is a participating marketplace with the analytics markets demand. Through PubCenter (IAI) delivers controls for developers’ Windows Phone and Windows 8 apps. In addition, it supplements the “free” part of Outlook.com. Before Outlook.com can serve a single email, Bing Ads had to deliver smart ads from valuable vendors.

imageThe service also relied on Office 365. What’s this? Office 365 is Microsoft subscription-base, web-enabled version of Office, including Exchange and SharePoint – a professional version of SkyDrive. Starting with version 2013, Office can be purchased over time, giving users an always-up-to-date version of Office and extensive online bonus features. Outlook.com extensively shares APIs with Office 365, allowing the integration of to equate to the integration of the other. Office 365 does so much more than Outlook.com, but before Outlook.com can serve a single email, Office 365 had to architecturally agree on external interfaces.

imageThe service also relied on Hotmail. Believe it or not, Outlook.com can handle millions of users, billions of emails, hundreds of thousands of independent management rules, millions of connected devices, and still rests on some of the original code written for Hotmail. Why? You might ask. Because it works. There comes a time when the best solution is the proven one. Even before Outlook.com, Hotmail was awesome. It had shared calendars, contacts, and some features that haven’t even made it to Outlook.com yet. And, it was fast! Before Outlook.com can serve a single email, Hotmail had to be ported and Hotmail users had to be migrated.

That’s it? Isn’t that enough?! Sheesh.

Enough of the history lesson?

As you can tell, I like to hear myself type. But enough of the background and the history lesson already. Let’s talk about how a user, family, or company can use Outlook.com with a vanity email instead of the available Hotmail.com, Live.com, Msn.com, or Outlook.com domains.

Introducing http://admin.live.com

Still branded to Windows Live, “Your Admins” is the site available to anybody with a Microsoft Account. And, it is available for free. When you first navigate to the site, you will see something like the screen below. The biggest difference, you won’t have a domain yet. All you have to do is click “Add domain” and follow the process. It’s basically redirecting your domains MX record.

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Once your domain is properly associated (which might take a few days) you can start to setup accounts. In the screen below, I have blanked out the actual email addresses. But it allows you to create (as you can read) more accounts.

THIS IS IMPORTANT!
Sometimes the support team will not allow more than 50 emails per domain. If your screen reads 500 then you can go to 500. But new accounts will read 50. And 50 is all they will give you, then an Office 365 link. Still you might plead your case here.

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There are two things to know about the screen above:

  1. The accounts you are creating a Microsoft Accounts. They are not “forwards” or anything like that. They are Microsoft Accounts whose email address will be xxx@domain.com or whatever you chose.
  2. As the administrator, you do not have the ability to look at anyone’s email. But, you do have two core features available to you that are special. The first is the ability to pause email. The second is to delete the account. Please notice you do not have the ability to reset a password.

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Who’s the administrator? The Microsoft Account used to create this domain record. Not the owner of the domain, but the domain record here in “Your Domains”. So, think first about the Microsoft Account you use. If you want your admin to have the custom domain, just setup your Microsoft Account that way.

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The screen above shows some of the coolness of this, letting you see the provisioning and usage of the emails in your domain. You can also setup a custom logo so Outlook.com is co-branded with your domain. You can also enable users to provision their own accounts by sending out a special link. Overall, for free, this is awesome. And, though Outlook.com has a professional feel to it – nothing say “cool” like your own custom domain.

Some questions

Is this better than Office 365?

No. In fact, Office 365 has far more to offer than this. But it’s nice.

Does Microsoft support for this?

Hmm. No. I mean, it works. But they don’t hold your hand at all.

Only one result on Microsoft Support search (see here)

How can I get support for this?

Don’t email me! Try http://support.microsoft.com. I doubt it’ll be free.

There’s also the forums you can try.

Is this a good idea for my school?

No. Schools should use Office 365 Education which is also free.

Is this a good idea for my business?

Maybe. If you are small or if you are cheap. Remember, no support!

Is this a good idea for my large business?

No. What if something goes wrong? There’s nobody to call.

It’s also possible that you won’t get extended above 50 accounts.

But, the will save me a bundle!

True. It’s your call. But you should use Office 365, you cheapskate.

Is there a feature down-side?

No. It’s just like Outlook.com

How much maintenance does this require?

None. Fire and forget.

Should my family use this?

Yes. Especially if you have kids.

Why would you add your kids?

In my house, Family Safety is the most important thing. If I setup my kids’ accounts then I retain some level of control. I can enforce a “this account and no other” rule in the house. It helps setting up the Family Safety child role, the Xbox Live child role, and Windows Phone My Family. That’s how I use it.

Can I merge my existing Outlook.com account?

No. You can’t. Microsoft Accounts cannot be merged.

What if I cancel the domain?

Ouch! The accounts would all be migrated to Outlook.com accounts.

Can I use a subdomain like email.domain.com?

Yeah, you can use it. As long as it’s real.

Can the admin be in the same domain?

Yes. You can create a new Microsoft Account in your custom domain.

Can the admin suspend email delivery?

Yes. Sheesh, I already said that in the article above!

Can the admin read sub-account’s email?

No. Sheesh, I already said that, too!

Can the admin reset a password?

I wish. They removed that feature. Too bad, too.

But you can ask for it back here. Maybe you’ll get it.

Can I add a second administrator?

Yes. You sure can. Read this.

In case it is pulled down for some reason:

  1. You can have multiple administrator accounts for your custom domain. Each administrator must register the domain on the Windows Live Admin Center website and enter the MX record (an MX record specifies which server in your domain should receive incoming email) that's associated with that administrator at your registrar (a company that is accredited to sell Internet domain names) or Domain Name System (DNS) provider's website. (The DNS helps your computer find other computers and websites on the Internet. A domain might provide a website, such as www.wingtiptoys.com, and email address, such as me@wingtiptoys.com, among other services.)

  2. Each administrator must have an MX record in the following format: <MX token>.pamx1.hotmail.com. When you have more than one administrator, your domain will have multiple DNS MX records, where each MX record represents a domain administrator with a different <MX token> value.

Can I transfer to another administrator?

Yes. You sure can. Read this. Another Account must register the domain.

In vase it is pulled down for some reason:

  1. To change your domain administrator account, you must reregister the domain on the Admin Center website and enter the MX record (an MX record specifies which server in your domain should receive incoming email) that's associated with that administrator at your registrar (a company that is accredited to sell Internet domain names) or Domain Name System (DNS) provider's website. (The DNS helps your computer find other computers and websites on the Internet. A domain might provide a website, such as www.wingtiptoys.com, and email address, such as me@wingtiptoys.com, among other services.) You must also delete the old MX record that was associated with the previous domain administrator account.

Will Microsoft host my domain for me?

Nope. They used to. Office 365 will. Not this.

Is that Windows Live Admin Center SDK cool?

Nope. Discontinued. They need to pull the link.

Does this work with Internet Explorer 11?

Haha! No. You have to use Chrome in Windows 8.1.

Conclusion

If you already have a domain, why not do this?
If you don’t have a domain, they’re just $10 a year.

Best of luck!