Outlook gets Facebook integration

Screengrab from Office 2010, Microsoft
Image caption The Social Connector in Outlook unites it with popular social networking sites

Microsoft has integrated Facebook into its Outlook e-mail system in its latest move towards the social web.

Users of Outlook will be able to see the Facebook profile photos of their e-mail contacts, plus their news feeds, status updates, pictures uploads and wall posts.

Currently people will only be able to view Facebook pages rather than update them via their e-mail account.

The move follows an integration between Outlook and business network LinkedIn.

Not spectacular

The add-on to Microsoft Outlook's Social Connector is available for download immediately.

Chris Adams, Microsoft's Office 2010 product manager said: "The Outlook Social Connector and providers from partners such as Facebook makes it easy and convenient for busy people to stay in touch with the people they care about."

Microsoft has long seen pulling the social web into its suite of products as a key part of its strategy.

Last year it launched Outlook Social Connector as part of its new Office 2010 software which went on sale in June.

Nate Elliott, a principal analyst with research firm Forrester, said the news would have more impact for the companies involved than for consumers.

"I'm not convinced it is a huge deal from the consumers' point of view as it doesn't really change the social media experience," he said.

"Pulling in a photo of someone in your contacts list isn't that spectacular. It does allow you to add people to your Facebook account but that is a relatively minor piece of functionality," he added.

For Microsoft though it is an acknowledgement that the social web is here to stay, thinks Mr Elliott.

"Microsoft has always maintained that it has its own social network in Windows Messeger so it is pretty notable that it is reaching beyond its own products," he said.

And for Facebook, the more integration it gets in other key software products the more likely it is to maintain its dominance of the social web.

"A few years ago Facebook took over from MySpace but the threat of people switching away from Facebook still exists," said Mr Elliott.

To avoid the privacy issue that blew up when Google integrated its social network Buzz into GMail, Microsoft has made sure that only Outlook e-mail addresses linked to Facebook accounts will be drawn into the system.

Gartner predicts that by 2014 social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for communication for 20% of business users.

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