Here is something you probably didn’t see coming: Outlook.com just enabled chat interoperability with Google Talk. This new feature, which is rolling out worldwide over the next few days, allows Outlook.com users to chat with their friends on Google, just like they can already do with their Facebook friends. Given the somewhat strained relationship between Microsoft and Google, this move comes as a bit of a surprise, but it looks like Microsoft doesn’t expect any issues with this rollout.
The new chat feature will be available across a number of Outlook.com-related products, including your inbox, calendar, address book and SkyDrive, so you can chat with your friends on Google while working on a document, for example.
As Microsoft’s senior product manager for Outlook.com Dharmesh Mehta told me yesterday, Microsoft heard from its users that chat interoperability was “one of the things that was holding people back from switching from Gmail to Outlook.com.” Many of those users who did switch, he added, said that this was a feature “they missed after the switch.”
To enable Google chat in Outlook.com, users simply have to connect their accounts using Google’s standard OAuth system to give Microsoft access to their accounts. After that, they can start new chats by hovering over a Gmail user’s contact cord or right from the standard chat pane.
One thing that doesn’t currently work, though, is to start group chats that include Gmail and Facebook users. Mehta left open the possibility that Microsoft would enable this in the future, but for now, the team hasn’t built the pieces that would allow Microsoft to pass messages between the networks.
Google is widely expected to launch updates to its own text, audio and video chat features at I/O later this week. It’s unlikely, however, that these will have any influence on the new features Microsoft announced today.