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Microsoft has stopped accepting new registrations for its free Custom Domains service, effective immediately. The nearly 10 year old free ride is coming to an end. The move was announced today on the Windows Live Admin Center page, where users manage custom email addresses. ZDNet’s Ed Bott first reported the service’s demise.

Custom domain support allowed you to use Outlook.com to manage a personal, non-Microsoft email domain—such as [email protected] or [email protected]— with the limit of up to 50 individual email accounts per domain. It was a great, free feature for personal use and startups alike, but alas, even good things must end from time to time.

outlook custom domains dead

Existing custom domain users won’t be left completely out in the cold, however. Although the service no longer allows you to assign a new custom domain to Outlook.com, administrators of currently enrolled domains can continue to add and remove existing addresses for approximately two more months. All current email address will continue to work in Outlook.com and the support will extend indefinitely.

Similar to Google’s shutdown of Google Apps sign-ups in 2012, Microsoft’s using the termination to migrate users to the business editions of Office 365, in this case. From the Windows Live Admin site:

“For domain administrators who wish to continue to manage email addresses in their domain, we will be providing the option to migrate your account to Office 365. As part of Office 365, you will be able to continue managing your custom domains, as well as use many additional productivity tools including shared calendars, cloud storage and instant messaging.”

Affected users will also be offered a free three-month subscription to Office 365 Small Business Premium. The complimentary subscriptions will be available for up to five accounts and cannot be added to an existing Office 365 account.

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A basic Office 365 Small Business subscription, sans Office rights, costs $60 per year (or $5 per month) per user. It also includes custom domain support and Outlook Web App usage. Meanwhile Google Apps for Business costs $50 per user per year, with extra charges for enterprise features such as email archiving.

The Alternatives

Zoho Mail:

zoho mail

Zoho is a secure, ad-free email hosting service that works with your own domain(s). With the free (lite) plan you can host one domain, and have up to 5 users (5GB storage each) and up to 3 groups. If you’d like to host multiple domains, you’ll need to upgrade.

zoho mail free
Zoho Mail Free Plan

The good news is Zoho can work on any mobile device that supports POP and IMAP, or via the mobile site. Plus, it also works with external email clients that (via POP and IMAP). Also Zoho includes it’s office suite to manage all your docs as well, at no extra cost.

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Furthermore add-on email accounts cost 2$/user, 60% cheaper than Google Apps or Office 365. And did i mention their referral program through which you can get a total of 20 user accounts per domain for free!

Webmail in Shared Hosting Services:

While most of you would have their sites hosted on shared hosting services like Hostgator, Bigrock, etc, what many of you might not be aware of is that these come built-in with free webmail services that you can use to send and receive emails.

Just login to your Cpanel (most common panel found in shared hosting) and search for the webmail option. Voila, free unlimited email accounts for your domain. Well not exactly free, since you’re paying for the hosting, but still it’s as good as it gets.

While i agree the webmail interface is fugly compared to Outlook or Gmail, you can always use email clients on your smartphone or your laptop to make up for it.

If you have any other alternatives I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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